So this Friday, I went to Charleston with Rosanne (director of the Museum), Marshall (a fellow intern at the Musem), and Noelle (a fellow BN). Rosanne went to Charleston to return a exhibit that the Marion Museum had on loan from the Charleston museum, and Marshall and I went along with her, Marshall because he lives in Charleston and me because I love Charleston and any excuse to go there. After we returned the exhibit, we went to a French restaurant called “Rue de Jean” and I had a wonderful, wonderful meal of moules marinieres and frisee salad. It was by far the best food I have eaten in SC so far. Then we went on a three-and-a-half-hour walk through Charleston where we walked along King St, down to the Battery, where I went swimming in some fountains, along the Battery, and back up Meeting St. to the museum. Charleston is just a beautiful city. It was wonderful. That night, we went back to Marshall’s house, ate dinner at his country club, and went downtown to hang out for a while before going to bed.
In the morning, Marshall and I went with Rosanne to the grand opening ceremony of Thomson Park on Sullivan’s Island. Sullivan’s Island is home to the historic Fort Moultrie, where the Americans beat the British for the first time during the Revolutionary War. Thomson Park is on the other end of the island from the fort, and it was critical in winning the battle, because it was from that point that they stopped the British from attacking the incomplete back part of the fort. They had an opening ceremony with speeches and all sorts of re-enactors. I’ve included some wonderfully ironic pictures of them doing modern things. I’ve also included some pictures of corn that we got for free from a farmer that Rosanne knows who I may interview for my oral history project. I hope you enjoy!
What a wonderful weekend get-away.
So I had a great day on the farm on Wednesday. We started out the morning working on a fencing job, where Mr. Wise was setting up a fence for a friend. I helped Mr. Ted install pretty bright red gates on the fence, which we did with an old-fashioned hand-cranked drill as well as the help of the skid-steer bulldozer. The fences are wire fences, with five horizontal wires that go all the way around the property. I believe that we fenced in what will soon become a cow pasture.
But that wasn’t the coolest part of the day. The coolest part of the day was when we got back to Mr. Wise’s farm. When we got back, he told me to jump on the tractor, and proceeded to explain to me how to use it. It is not irregular for Mr. Wise to explain to me how things work without him expecting me to use/drive them, but after a few minutes of him explaining how to drive the tractor, I realized, much to my delight, that I was going to get to drive the tractor for the first time. Now that we’ve harvested the wheat, we are moving on to planting soybeans, and that’s what I did. We loaded up all of the seed into the planter attachment of the tractor–which digs trenches, deposits seeds, and covers them up–and Mr. Wise took me over to the field. He drove a few rows so I could see what to do, then he rode with me while I drove for a few rows, and then he got off of the tractor and let me drive on my own. Actually, he got in the truck and drove away. So it was me, the tractor, the soybean seeds, and the field.
I don’t think I realized exactly how much I love farming until I was planting that field. I just had so much time to think, to reflect, and to muse. I spent the first few minutes singing Lady Gaga songs, then I spent a while thinking about whether or not we are accountable for the immoral actions of systems which we empower through our identity. To bring that down to earth, I was thinking particularly about many of my wonderful friends who are members of fraternities and sororities. Oftentimes fraternities and sororities are extremely unethical, perpetuating racism, classism, homophobia, and many other social evils, but what should I make of people who are not racist, classist or homophobic, yet are in fraternities or sororities? They don’t perpetuate those evils in their own lives, but they identify and lend power to an identity (that of a fraternity brother or sorority girl) that does perpetuate those social evils. The question quickly becomes a much more general question about how accountable we are for what we give power through identity but not through direct action. I mused over a few metaphors and decided on this one. We are all like pieces of sediment in a river, and the river represents the systems with which we identify (our religion, our family, our sorority or fraternity, our friend group, whatever). If we as sediment are complacent in a river, we are moved by the river and consequently become part of it’s force through our complacency. So if we are complacent within an unethical system, we perpetuate it. What we must do as sediment then is latch on to the bottom of the river, and actively fight against the current. Other pieces of sediment will get stuck with us, and eventually, our collective weight will be enough to hold us down and the river will have to flow around us. Thus, we change the current, the direction of the river, but we cannot through complacency, only through deliberate effort against the current. That being said, we are not required, as sediment, to find another river entirely–meaning that we don’t have to change our identity. We can stay in the river, but we must change its direction. We can keep our identity, but we must change what our identity means.
That’s why I love the tractor, because it gives me time to think through things like that. I also had a good time watching all of the dust-devils whirl about the field as I planted it.
It’s been very dry and Mr. Wise said that it was going to rain that night after I planted. That night, I realized that I have truly become a farmer when I found myself dreaming about waking up to the sound of rain pattering on our tin roof. Luckily, it has started raining a lot more often, and we had a wonderful storm today and yesterday, so hopefully my little soybeans will grow up to be big and strong. I’ll keep you updated.
Also on Wednesday, I decided that I should take some self-portraits, and you’ll find those in the gallery as well, including one that may be my favorite picture of myself that I’ve ever seen; it’s the one where I have dirt on my nose.
So on Thursday night, there was a big storm around sundown and the clouds were simply incredible. So yeah, I did it. I took pictures of clouds. I am officially a stereotypically uncreative photographer. Get over it, and enjoy the photos!
So this past weekend, my parents came to town, and it was wonderful. They got to see what I’ve been up to this summer and get to meet some of the people who have been important for me here. They came to town on Saturday at lunch time, where, after a morning of thrift shopping (where I got a fantastic sequined coat and an American flag shirt), I met up with them for lunch at Richard’s Restaurant, a local greasy joint. After lunch, I went back with them to Rosewood, the bed and breakfast that they were staying at, and I got to see it in all of it’s glory; I felt like I had stepped straight into the most glamorous and opulent part of the 19th century south. Pictures to come later in the post.
After going to Rosewood, I took my parents by to see the Marion County Museum, and we had a little surprise. I told the director Rosanne that I was planning to take my parents over the weekend and she said that it would be fine, but she forgot to mention the alarm. So I walk in through the back door with my parents and a siren starts going off and doesn’t stop. I didn’t know how to turn it off, so my parents and I simply sat and waited for the police to show up. Sure enough, a police officer–Officer Elvis was his name–showed up about ten minutes later, but by then I had figured out how to turn it off. The bottom line is that I’m a felon. After that, the weekend was pretty low key. My parents and I went to dinner with the Wise’s and they got to meet Mr. Wise and Mrs. Wise see who’s been teaching me about farm work for the past few weeks. I spent the night with them at Rosewood, and in the morning we went to Little Pee Dee State Park. All in all, a glorious trip.
Now, without further ado, pictures of the beautiful, splendiforous, remarkable, ornate, majestic Rosewood as well as a few pictures of my family at Little Pee Dee State Park:
(Also, I’m trying a new “Gallery” format, which makes the pictures easier to load. Just click on the first picture and it launches a gallery where you can look through all of the pictures. Let me know if you love it or hate it)
So this Sunday was an experience. This Sunday, I went to an African-American church called the Door of Hope along with the thirteen other kids in my scholarship group and our advisor, Dr. Demarco. Among us, we had a total of 13 white kids, a black kid, 1.5 jewish kids, and a white doctor. I could tell that this would be an interesting experience for all of us.
Perhaps let me start this post by apologizing that I don’t have any pictures from inside of the service. I wasn’t sure if it would be impolite, rude, or inconsiderate to take pictures of folks, and by the time I realized that it probably would’ve been okay, the liveliest portion of the service was over. So all I have are these dinky photos of the church building and sign:
We entered the church, and immediately I was full of conflicting feelings. It turned out that the entire service would leave me conflicted at every moment. When we walked in at eleven o’clock, the service was already lively with the sound of gospel music, which I loved. So in a way, I felt immediately at home. I love singing loud, harmonious, spirited gospel, and I can sing it right along with the rest of them. But in another way, I felt so painfully distant from what was going on because of who I was with. One can only feel so immersed in a community when one is surrounded by other outsiders. I would start dancing and singing, and I would start to get into it, but then I would look around and see that most of my classmates who were at the service weren’t, which made me feel weird, which made me want to stop dancing and singing and getting into it. Essentially, there were two choices; I could be awkward in the eyes of the congregation by not participating, or I could be awkward in the eyes of my fellow students because I was participating. So I struck some sort of unsatisfactory middle ground, on the brink of enthusiastically–but not quite enthusiastically–dancing and singing.
The singing continued and began increasing in intensity until it reached a fever pitch. People were weeping, and a young woman in the row in front of us was out in the aisle dancing so vigorously that she had to be covered with a blue cloth to stop her underwear from showing as her pants began to fall down. Four rows ahead of us to the front, an older woman was crooning, “YES! YEEES! YEE-EEE-ESSS!” at the top of her lungs as the announcements began, and she continued to do so for a minute or two.
Again, this left me pretty conflicted. On the one hand, I saw the young woman dancing and crying in front of me and I wondered what was troubling her so deeply that she needed this kind of weekly release. I’m not certain, but it is my suspicion that that kind of spiritually intense experience is derived from some sort of pain, loss, or suffering in life, and I couldn’t help but think about what it might have been that was making her feel that way. I was, however, immensely thankful that she had an outlet to express that kind of pain and to feel the love that she surely felt in that service; it was her refuge, and it was a refuge that I’m glad she has. But on the other hand, I couldn’t help but be perturbed by that same phenomenon. While religious experiences that intense can be life changing, they can also be extremely manipulative. It is that same feeling of spiritual high that allows people to be financially exploited by heartless television evangelists selling “Miracle Water for just a small donation of $20;” it is that same feeling of spiritual ecstasy that brings people to accept another person’s spiritual framework without question, regardless of how judgmental and unethical it may be; and it is that same intense religious experience that can oftentimes make people lose their ability to think rationally and critically. I’m not saying that any of those things were happening to this young woman; I’m only saying that they may have the potential to somewhere down the line.
When Bishop Michael Blue began his sermon, I had similar feelings. He began at an even tone, but quickly escalated to a booming, raspy yell that lasted for an hour and a half. He would holler some, pause, wipe the profuse sweat from his brow, and yell some more. At certain points, he was downright screaming, and it made me very uncomfortable in many ways, again because his rhetoric—really the entire experience of worship at Door of Hope—was centered almost entirely around pathos. It focused its efforts almost exclusively on raw emotional appeal, not as much on an intellectual or logical sentimentality. That would be how I would best describe Bishop Blue’s sermon; all pathos and ethos, not much logos. Accordingly, he could got away with some slight historical mischaracterizations, theological inconsistency, and contradictory rhetoric. It was strange, watching our group listen to his sermon. I watched the two Jewish people in our group listen as he talked about how those of “the old covenant” don’t have God with them always, but those of “the new covenant” do. I watched the doctor and aspiring medical students in our group listen as he preached that God can heal you beyond what medicine can do. I watched the history majors bite their tongues as he over-simplistically stated that the protestant reformation caused the invention of the printing press and the enlightenment. I felt myself, a former-Methodist-turned-typical-college-agnostic-humanist, squirming as he condemned agnostics and atheists because Jesus is the only way to salvation.
It was around that time that the thought hit me, and I regret it because it shows a huge lack of cultural respect and a vastly privileged life, but I have to divulge it in the hopes of honestly reflecting on the experience. When looking around at all of the children who were in the service, I wondered what would happen if, instead of spending five hours in church every Sunday, the children in this service were made to spend an hour or two at church, and the other three or four hours reading or dancing or drawing or something else stimulating? How would the world change?
Also, because I feel that I may have gotten overly-critical, I should make a note that Door of Hope was nothing less than completely warm and welcoming to our group of fourteen privileged Duke students. They let Dr. DeMarco get up and speak about us, they made us stand up in order to recognize us, they applauded what we were doing in the community, and they hugged us one by one when the time to welcome visitors came.
All in all, it was a very conflicted experience, but one that perhaps I will be able to digest with time.
Today we burned what was left of Mr. Wise’s wheat fields after we had harvested the wheat. In essence, this meant that it was a bunch of hay, some wheat stalks, and some unwanted grass. From what I understand the philosophy behind burning one’s fields is that it both releases nutrients from the organic matter you burn, and it destroys root systems and such that are subterranean. I’m not sure of the scientific validity of it, but Mr. Wise has been doing it for years, so it must be alright, and I’ve seen plumes of smoke coming up all around Marion County from other farmers doing the same thing, so there must be some consensus about it. Also, if you’d like a comedic mental image to accompany these images, know that I took these pictures while trying to also hold on to the back of a four-wheeler as we doused the fields in flame. It was a comedic sight to say the least. Lastly, if you’re questioning the legality of doing this, it should please (or potentially displease) you to know that, beforehand, Mr. Wise registered the fire with the state of South Carolina.
Without further ado:
And lastly, this was Alfonzo’s rooster, who was very disoriented by the whole thing.
That’s all for now!
So I promised y’all some pictures of the combine in action, and here they are. Without further ado, the combine.
Combine, meet a reader. Reader, meet a combine. Look, now you’re friends with this heavy piece of equipment. In case you didn’t know, the combine is used to cut wheat. I can explain to you how it works via photos. So, looking at this picture, you’re looking at the front of the combine. The front has a giant column that revolves very quickly.
On the giant rotating column, you will find a series of plastic teeth. They bend the wheat back ever so gently and push them towards…
THE TEETH! Imagine these coming at you with all the force of a giant engine, now imagine them coming at you with all the force of a giant engine while they are slicing back and forth so quickly you can’t even follow them with your eyes. Great. Now you understand how a piece of wheat feels right before it meets its demise. Now this whole machine is operated by…
The farmer! Enter Mr. Wise, expert wheat farmer of over 50 years. He operates the vehicle by using a bunch of levers and by turning…
The steering wheel! And the steering wheel helps turn…
The tires! Which in this case are be-speckled with groovily artistic light from a grate above. Now all of these move the combine forward so that it can…
Lots of wheat!
So much wheat! Oh the humanity! The massacre! So many innocent botanical lives lost!
Then you go, open the door, talk to Mr. Ted, and tell him to get the truck because your grain bin is full! So he get’s the truck and you…
Really cute dog! His name is Duke, because ”Carolina” is a totally stupid name for a dog. Ew.
And that’s the combine! I hope that you enjoyed this informative photo-essay! Have a great day!!!!!!!!!! Bye now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
So, as I’m writing this post, I’m sitting up in what has been termed the “G-loft.” The G-Loft is the loft above the main lodge room where four of the girls in our group live, hence the name. It’s marginally quieter than the rest of the house. Scratch that, someone turned the TV back on. Forget this, I’m going outside even though it’s hot, because there is no quiet in this house…
Well that plan didn’t really work very well. I got onto the porch and the second I got there, one of the two golden retrievers that live at the house with us decided that he was very keen on getting at the chocolate-chip pumpkin-spice muffin that I was trying to eat, so I had to nix the porch, and now I’m sitting in my bed regrettably typing while my roommate tries to take a nap…
The past few days have been very full of stuff to do, which is strange for a weekend here, but it was a required weekend for everyone in my scholarship group, which meant that all 14 of us were here for the weekend. We had a few planned activities throughout the weekend, and they were all pretty fun.
On Friday night, our landlord DW made us Chicken Bog for dinner, the official dish of the Pee Dee region. While the name sounds disgusting, the dish itself is quite good. It’s sort of a less dressed-up version of jambalaya; which is to say that it’s basically chicken and rice with sausage in it. After chicken bog, DW took us all skeet shooting at the range that he has on his property.
As a devout liberal, a proponent of strict gun control laws, and a public enemy of the second amendment, it pains me to say that it was really, really fun. I love skeet shooting. Also, I’m apparently not too bad at it. I hit one on my second try, and overall hit two of the six skeet that I shot at. So if you ever run into me with a 12-gauge shotgun, you better watch out, ‘cause I’m good with it. Here are some photos for your viewing pleasure:
Friday night was an experiment of sorts for me. As you can see from the photos, I wore an outfit that was pretty flamboyant, but no one commented on it, except for the cowboy boots. One of the guys who was helping us shoot asked me if I rode horses or if I just liked the boots, at which point I had to admit that I just liked the boots. But he didn’t ask the question in a menacing way, he was simply making conversation, and no one was rude to me all night, no one said anything, and no one even seemed to be treating me any differently. It’s starting to make me think that maybe this place isn’t really going to be hostile towards me at all. I doubt that the politeness is based in a genuine affirmation of my identity, but it is politeness nonetheless. Also, I’m enjoying more and more how much of a contradiction I’m becoming this summer. I blast the pounding beats of Lady Gaga on my way to work at the farm, I eye cute boys while I’m at the hardware store getting parts to repair a combine, and I write up policy goals for LGBT groups on campus for the upcoming year after a night of skeet shooting. I am a contradiction, and I’m starting to love it.
On Saturday, we went on a four and a half hour group canoe trip down the Little Pee Dee River. It was awesome. Naturally, I didn’t want to take my camera for fear of tipping my canoe, but you can just imagine a bunch of us paddling, floating, and paddling some more down a lazy, lazy river.
That night, we went to a random Thai restaurant in Florence and went to see the new X-Men movie. Sometimes I forget how much I love X-Men; it’s just the best allegorical representation of minority politics ever. My favorite scene was when Mystique was trying to seduce Magneto and he walks into his bedroom to find her laying naked in bed in her human transformed persona. He’s not into it, and she transforms into a pin-up girl, at which point Magneto says, “No, I like the real you better.” So Mystique transforms back into her human persona, and Magneto still isn’t satisfied, saying “No, the real you.” Then Mystique transforms back into her normal blue-skinned scaly self and Magneto says, “this is the beautiful you I know.” or something like that. And then they make out. There were so many parallels with what I struggle with in my gender performance, it’s pretty rad. But that’s another blog post altogether…
On Friday, I went to the farm to work with Mr. Wise, and boy did he set me to work. He showed me briefly how to use the lawn mower that he has, and then sent me to work mowing pretty much his entire property, which is a substantial amount of acreage. It took me the whole day, and I had to learn the ins and outs of using the industrial strength riding lawn mower, but surprisingly, I had a lot of fun. I very much enjoyed mowing the lawn, because it was almost therapeutic, almost meditative. Up and down the rows of grass, back and forth, seemingly endlessly. The one downside was that it was extremely dusty due to the dry summer we’ve been having down here. That was made up for by the fact that when Mr. Ted stopped me for lunch, he had a Whopper and fries waiting for me in the truck.
Later in the day, Mr. Wise stopped me for a while and let me ride with him in the combine. Now for all of you non-agriculturalists, combines are giant machines that are used to harvest wheat at season’s end. The machine itself is massive, almost as big as a house and about as expensive as one. According to Mr. Wise, combines can range from $200,000 to $400,000. They have a giant rotating column in the front that is equipped with plastic teeth that pull the wheat, razor strips that cut it, and a spiral that pulls it in towards the back of the combine, where the grain is processed and separated from all of the stuff that you don’t want. While riding with Mr. Wise in the combine, I was again struck with a deep sense of peace surrounding the whole thing. It is such a monastic exercise, cutting wheat. You simply go up and down the rows, back and forth over golden fields, while the machine hums gently in the background. This is only ruined when you look down and see the constant swarm of panicked bugs, crickets, mice, and rabbits running away from the blades of the machine. Another fun fact about using combines is that hawks will stalk your combine and dive down periodically to catch a mouse or rabbit that has momentarily lost its cover. I don’t have any pictures of the combine as of yet, but I’ll make sure to get some posted soon.
To finish up this post though, here’s a picture of how dirty I was after work. Needless to say, I had to hose off before I could even come in the house.
Thursday was a great day. On Thursdays I usually go downtown and work at the Museum with Rosanne, which I did this week. Marshall and I spent the first part of the day moving Christmas decorations out of an exhibit room, where they had been in storage and did not belong, and into a storage room downstairs, where they should have been all along. After we did that, Marshall and Roseanne both went home for lunch, so I wandered around main street. One thing that I’ve learned about small southern towns is that nothing is open much past five, and some things are open only until about two. So at one o’clock, I was at a prime time to explore the restaurants and shops which are often closed when I come at night. It was interesting walking around. The first lesson I learned is that when shops go out of business in a town like Marion, they don’t really bother taking down their signs or removing their name. This meant that I spent a lot of time just inventorying which shops really existed and which shops were mere signage. The first shop that I went into was one called Marion Coffee Shop, or at least that’s what the sign said at the top. The windows of the shop, however, painted a different picture. They read “internet café and pool lounge,” so I was a bit skeptical, but I gave it a try. I walked in and immediately realized that I should have just left. It looked nothing like a coffee shop, having no bar or espresso machine. It did however have a few pool tables and old computers. To be sure, and to justify walking in at all, I asked the man at the register what kind of coffee they had. He reached over behind him, past a Keurig single-cup brewing machine that is most commonly seen in office buildings, to a rotating rack of single-cup coffee brewing pouches, and he began to read off the names of the pouches: “We have Columbian roast, holiday blend, and that’s about it.” I told him thank you for his time, politely refused, and walked out, feeling as awkward as possible. Clearly, I’m not in Raleigh anymore.
As I strode away, I did begin to wonder how much of what had just run through my head was classist snobbery and how much of it was legitimate critique. I could picture people representing it either way, because let’s be honest, an office coffee maker does not a coffee shop make. On the other hand, I can definitely see myself represented as some sort of valley girl caricature saying “Oh my god! That’s, like, such a pathetic excuse for a coffee shop. Like, seriously? What a joke.”
In Marion, I often feel trapped between those two representations, between the rich, uppity snob who grew up in the city, and the relaxed, intelligent guy who earnestly has some trouble relating to and understanding what is around him. I’m still not sure which I am.
I wandered down main street some more, and found still more sad and lonely signs standing over empty shops. One looked like a record store, one a café of sorts, another a clothing store.
And just when I thought that there was nothing more to see, I stumbled into a gem. The store wasn’t marked by any sort of large boisterous sign, but as you walk by, it would take someone completely unaware not to notice the colorful array of wonderful hats, the kind that you see old African-American women wear to church, the kind that Duchesses wore to the Royal wedding. That’s right, in the middle of the partially defunct main street, there is a hat store. And these hats were big, they were gaudy, they were sequined and feathered and glittered, architectural and fabulous. Sadly, I didn’t have my camera, so I don’t have any pictures to post yet, but don’t worry, I’ll have some for you by the end of the summer. And yes, I plan on buying one before the summer’s end. As I walked into the store, I was greeted by the store’s owner, Liz. Liz was an older black woman with hair that was dyed a reddish color and braided back. We talked for about forty-five minutes about how she ended up in Marion after living in Philadelphia, about how she used to get in trouble during design school for doing her own thing, and about the best places to eat in town. Eventually, I told her that I had to get back to work and I returned to the museum.
That’s when I got my bit of good news for the day. My application to conduct research with human subjects for the Institutional Review Board at Duke was finally approved! That approval has been the one thing that’s been stopping me from getting started on my oral history project, and now that that’s out of the way, I can hit the ground running, which in turns means that I should start posting to the Oral History Blog section soon, which in turns means that I am excited.
Hey y’all! So this post is going to be another photographic expose, this time it’s pictures from the farm that I’m working on with the Wise family. I hope that you all enjoy them!
So yeah, the farm is really cool.
So today, I tagged along with Bekah to work at her internship at Wildlife Action because Tuesdays are one of my days that I’m scheduled to work on my oral history project, but I’m still waiting for approval from the Institutional Review Board at Duke, so I had nothing else to do, blah blah blah, etc.
At any rate, I got to go with Bekah to Wildlife Action Day Camp and it was SO FUN. Wildlife Action is a conservation group that is run by a strange fusion of hunters and environmentalists (but mostly hunters) who are dedicated to helping inspire people with a passion for nature, fishing, hunting, and the like. It’s a fantastic organization, so reputable in fact, that the town of Mullins, SC, where it’s located, has signs attached to the “City of Mullins” signs that say “Home of Wildlife Action USA.” In accordance with their mission, they run day camps with kids at Fort Retch, their main camp, which contrary to its name is quite pleasant.. The kids get there bright and early, and they do lots of fun activities such as archery, fishing, shooting, and canoeing. Also, they have bonus stations most days, and today the bonus station was with a professor from Francis Marion University who specializes in reptiles. He brought snakes. Lots of them.
So today, I helped Bekah at the canoe station, which turned out to be quite a lot of fun. I got to canoe around with young kids for about four hours, and any time that I wasn’t canoeing, I was sitting on the dock enjoying the lake. Sometimes, as a college student who only sees people that are 18 years-of-age or older on a daily basis, I forget how much I love kids. I LOVE them. They’re just cute and fun and full of energy and I just have so much fun working with them as long as they’re moderately well-behaved. Also, now that I’m older, it’s fun because I get to determine what is and is not cool. For instance, if the girl that I’m canoeing with is home-schooled and loves science, I get to say, “You’re cool” and it’s as if it was scrawled in a stone tablet and taken straight down from Zion because all of the other kids will agree with whatever I say is cool. And I really cherish that ability to help change kids’ ideas about the world, to redefine the world around them in a way that is more ethical and more loving. Like when I sit with my legs crossed at the knee, I send a message to the kids I’m working with that says, “It’s okay to be more effeminate if you’re a guy; it’s okay to be who you are.” I just love that ability. Maybe I should work with kids more.
Here are some pictures of kids canoeing, a frog I found, and water bubbling from a well:
One more thing that was interesting about today was the painfully obvious racial divide that existed at Wildlife Action. But first, a disclaimer. As someone who is an activist in the LGBT community, I have spent a lot of time discussing the racial divide that often exists within that community, and I know first hand how exhausting it is to try and address the issue of institutional racism when your organization is already trying so hard to function and grow. So I know how hard it is to change racial dynamics of advocacy organizations, but with something like fun nature day-camp, I just can’t imagine that it would be that hard to reach out to the black community here in Marion County and get a few more kids to go. Out of about one hundred kids, there was literally one black girl who was at camp, as well as one black volunteer. Perhaps I’ll talk to the folks at Wildlife Action about that, because to be honest, I bet it just hasn’t even crossed their minds as busy as they are saving the environment. So don’t take this to mean that I’m indicting Wildlife Action, only that I’m intending to point out something.
Wildlife Action, and its directors Bunny and Frank are simply wonderful for this community. I’m totally interviewing Bunny for the oral history project.
In other news, our first weekend in Marion was interesting. On Thursday, we made a bonfire at the house with everyone and it was kitschy and adorable. On Friday night, we went to Applebee’s (On Marschall’s suggestion, ew.) and then went to see Bridesmaids in Florence, which was hilarious. On Saturday, we were bored for most (correction all) of the day, and the highlight of our night was an 11:00pm run to Wal-Mart and an epic game of Risk. On Sunday, we slept really late, did nothing, and went to Wendy’s that night. On Monday, I worked with Mr. Wise a little bit, then we all went swimming in the Little Pee Dee river, and then we made a big ol’ dinner that included green-bean casserole and homemade chocolate chip cookies. I’ll leave you guys with pictures from the bonfire on Thursday:
So no writing in this post, only pictures of the Marion County Museum where I’m working part of the time. The Museum is in an old school-house, which is a misleading term for the building given how nice the building is in actuality:
The foyer of the museum
The donations box as you enter the museum
The front parlor
A painting in the front parlor
The Marion Swamp Fox, the mascot of the town
A restoration of what a classroom would look like when it was a schoolhouse
A foot pedal organ in the hallway
Sifting through stacks of papers for a WWI exhibit
The archives room
These were on a shelf in the archives room. Native American influence perhaps?
Old trunks in the storage room
Last but not least, the creepiest thing in the museum. This freaks me out big time.
Until next time,
Alright, so this post is going to be long, and somewhat more reflective than descriptive, but I hope that you will still enjoy it.
It was tedious work and was kind of smelly. The process was straightforward and the result satisfying. After you were done, something broken had become whole, a fond memory had been reconstructed, the memory of someone restored.
On my second day working at the Museum, I spent most of my time repairing a porcelain candelabra that my boss had broken on her first day there. The candelabra is an ornate, pink, flowery thing from the 1800’s and it has a base that features a woman sitting and holding some sort of golden cup. The candle-holding part of the candelabra attaches to a hole in the base and holds four candles total, three on the outside that encircle a central candle.
The process for repairing it was actually something that I enjoyed a lot. I didn’t know how to re-glue porcelain, but after a quick Google search I found a set of directions, and the process essentially goes like this; mix apoxy glue, apply apoxy glue to two broken pieces of porcelain, reconnect the pieces, hold the pieces together for 5-10 minutes as the apoxy glue cures, and repeat. So I went to the hardware store, got the glue, and set to work. After a few mess-ups, I got the hang of it, and from then on, it was mere tedium. I sat at my desk holding pieces of porcelain together for a few hours. Waiting, waiting, waiting for the glue to harden and praying that I didn’t do anymore damage to the delicate porcelain. Thankfully, Lady Gaga had just released her new album “Born This Way” the day before, so I had some wonderful music to make the waiting much easier, but it still tried my patience. Bit by bit though, the lamp came together.
After a few days to reflect on it, I’m realizing how many lessons I can learn from the simple act of regluing a candelabra. I’m coming into a community that is broken, a community that is in fragments, and it is my hope to help piece it together over the summer. I’ve spent time doing my research this past year, trying to find an instruction manual for how to best put it together, and I have found a method in storytelling, which in my experience is the strongest glue around. I’ve seen how storytelling can bring people together, that is if you can keep them together long enough for them to stick; and perhaps that will be my biggest challenge. Having all of the stories collected from this community will be wonderful, but I need people to take the time to listen to each other in order for what I’m trying to do to work. So I’ve gone to the hardware store and gotten my apoxy glue: my microphone, my recorder, my cables, my camera. And what comes next is merely patience. The patience to listen, the patience to transcribe interviews, the patience to write paperwork for the Duke institutional review board, the patience to reflect critically on what I hear from the people here, the patience to let the glue cure. But I’m scared, and quite frankly I’m not confident in my ability to piece it back together. I don’t know if my glue is strong enough, I don’t know which pieces I’m missing, and I’m terrified that I will end up further breaking something that is already so fragile and so broken.
It was kind of smelly work, and it really made my wrists hurt, but the process was simple and the product rewarding. After you were done, it just sparkled; that is, unless you had the misfortune of finding a permanent blemish.
I spent the better part of my third day at the museum polishing antique silver, and the virtue of the work was once again patience. It seems that is something that is coming up more often as a theme of my summer. But the virtue of the work also manifested in a slightly different way. The virtue of the work was also pragmatism. As I was polishing the base of the silver, I started to find that there were some splotches, some imperfections, that simply wouldn’t go away no matter how vigorously I scrubbed or how much polish I used. They were permanent, or at least they took some tool, some chemical, or some skill that I simply didn’t have. In the frenzied state that I was in while polishing silver, that was something that was hard to accept. I wanted to make the silver perfect, to make it glisten flawlessly, but there was a point where I had to accept that it wasn’t within my power to do so.
I must take that lesson with me into this summer. Regardless of how much I care or how much I want to make my project, my summer, or this community into something glistening, there are simply going to be times when I will be powerless to do so, and I must accept that, no matter how hard it is. I cannot fix everything, and if I try to, I will neglect what work I can do. If I focus obsessively on one spot that won’t get clean, I may miss the opportunity to polish so many others. And in the long run, that blemish will hardly seem significant given the overall work that I was able to do. Regardless of the fact that there was a permanent stain on the base, the silver that I polished still looked so much nicer and so much more beautiful than it did before.
It was hot work, and it sort of made my palm hurt, but the process was not difficult to understand and the result was gratifying. After you were done, the edges would be shiny, and some of the rust would be gone. It would lie flat, which in turn would make it easy to weld.
On my first day at the Wise family farm, I spent part of my day learning how to drive a forklift, part of my day playing with the dogs, part of my day talking with Ted, a friend of Mr. Wise’s who helps on the farm, and part of the day sanding down metal blocks for welding. Ted and I were working on repairing a grain trailer that had some pretty significant holes in its metal frame that we were going to repair by welding new pieces of metal onto the trailer. So, after you cut pieces of metal with the torch, they have bumpy edges that protrude from where you cut and Ted explained to me that you have to grind off these bumps so that the piece of metal will lay flat against what you are trying to repair. That way, it welds more effectively to another piece of metal. Later, Ted taught me how to use the grinder and I began to grind the pieces of metal flat.
As I did so, I began to think a bit about what I was doing and I realized that, in many ways, that’s what I’ve been doing to myself for the past few weeks. I’m a gender-queer, gay, vegetarian, radically-liberal, progressive. To a low-county South Carolinian, I’m a bumpy person. I don’t fit neatly to the other pieces of metal; I don’t adhere well, but in order to work effectively in this community and to help create change, I have to fit in somehow. And so I’ve shaved off some of my bumps: for the summer, I’ve reverted my gender performance to one that is much more traditionally masculine, I’ve become much more tentative and cautious about being public about my sexual orientation, I’m not calling people out for doing things or saying things that I consider disrespectful or ignorant, and I’m off of vegetarianism. I’ve ground myself down, reshaped myself somewhat, and it’s taken some effort, but now I feel that I’m the shape that I need to be in order to really be of use to this community. After having sacrificed some part of myself temporarily, I will join easily with others here, and maybe that’s the kind of selflessness that true voluntarism takes.
On Saturday, we were given the opportunity to help with the book sale that library runs every year at the annual Fox Trot festival. The weather was hot and so was the festival. I had a blast. There were street vendors all up and down main street selling jewelry, sugary deep-fried concoctions, and goofy hats galore. My personal favorites were the reusable shopping bags that a local church group was selling that said “Say NO to plastic. Say YES to Jesus!” Get it Christian environmentalists, get it.
My favorite part of the festival itself was the parade that they had in the morning. Here are a few pictures from it:
The book sale went well. It was a great way to interact with the community; moreover, it was inside and it was air-conditioned; moremoreover, there were shelves upon shelves of cheesy romance novels. I read a sci-fi romance novel about a criminal who was freed from his arrest in a cryogenic tube by a lusty young princess charged with the task of saving the galaxy. The cover of the book featured a rippled, muscly, shirtless man surrounded by test-tubes and glowing green things. In my own, subtle way I’d like to think that I came out to Marion a little bit by reading that book in public.
That night, after the street festival, they had a dance out on the county football/baseball field. We all decided to go, and the moment we got to the parking lot, we realized that what had started as an evening of immersion in the community was quickly turning into a lesson in racial tension. Other than Jeff, our whole scholarship program is white, and Jeff didn’t even come with us to the dance. So we roll into the dance and quickly realize that we are the only white people in sight. We later found a group of white people sitting up front by the band, but that was pretty much it. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a situation like that, and I didn’t know what to do with myself. Granted, we were outsiders and knew no one, black or white, so there wasn’t anything we could do about it in the short term, but it made it very clear that we were in a community that still remained extremely segregated. We still managed to have fun and did some swing dancing, but I felt incredibly awkward and guilty the whole night. This also may be a good time to point out that it shouldn’t have been too surprising, given that Marion is about 66% African-American.
Also, when we first arrived at the dance, I could hardly believe my eyes because the lead singer of the band was dressed in drag and singing Cher’s “Love After Love.” I took a moment and thought to myself, “I have arrived.” That is until the end of the song when the lead singer left the stage to get changed and one of the band members said, over the loudspeakers, “Now if that won’t make the perverts go home, then I don’t know what will.” And then I remembered where I really was. To a lot of people here, I’m a pervert.
But I don’t want to end on that note, so I’ll end with this picture of my favorite sign from the Fox Trot festival:
So it’s the rare part of the afternoon where the house is quiet and I can think a little bit. People are beginning to stream back from their internships at the moment, so the quiet probably won’t last for long. I’m taking full advantage of it, because it is a very, very rare thing when living with fourteen other college students in a hunting lodge.
Perhaps that’s a good place to start—the house. Our house for the summer is an old barn that was converted into a hunting lodge and is now surrounded by a duck “reserve” where ducks are bred to be hunted. Granted, we can’t hear them because the pond is somewhat far away, but there are around two-thousand ducks swimming in a caged-in lake about seven-hundred feet away from where I’m currently sitting, waiting to be shot by hunters later in the year. For now though, they’re safe due to the fact that fourteen college students are stopping any hunters from living in the house for two and a half months.
When you enter the house, there is a huge main room with a stone fireplace, leather couches, and stairs up to the loft above. The walls of the main room of the lodge are peppered with four to five deer heads, eight or nine ducks, and a massive wild turkey that glares at us from his spot above the stairs. Affixed to the main room is a kitchen, a dining room with a huge table, a garage that stores hunting gear, five bedrooms with two twin beds each, and three bathrooms total. It’s roomy enough, but personal space doesn’t really exist, and no matter where you are in the house, you can hear if the TV is on. Affixed to the side of the house, we have what I have dubbed “The Party Barn.” It has not one, but two bars, a plasma screen TV, tables, chairs and a dance floor.
The surrounding area is idyllic. The house is planted in the middle of acres of wheat and soybean fields, with a low horizon line and oh-so-much sky. The fields have become my escape of sorts and I wander around them when I need to get away from the oftentimes-turbulent house.
My first impressions of Marion are mixed. It has both met and challenged my expectations in wildly different ways, and my opinion of it is shifting all of the time. When I first got here, I was surprised by how not small it felt for a small town. There is a central downtown core with municipal buildings, a hardware store, a few restaurants with odd hours, a few barbershops, churches, and the museum that I’m working for. Additionally, there is a highway drag with fast food, a Wal-Mart, a few grocery stores, etc. It’s a town of about 7,500 and I guess that doesn’t feel as small as I thought it would. That being said, when I realized that about half of the storefronts on main street are vacant, it started to feel a bit smaller. And when I wanted to get a quick snack after work and realized there was nowhere I could get one in all of downtown, it started to get a bit smaller. Or when I went into the local pharmacy and ordered a milkshake only to be told that the only milk they had was rancid and that I’d have to come back tomorrow, it started to feel a little bit smaller. But never too small. It’s like what the sign on the water-tower says: Marion, it’s just right!
On our first few days in Marion, we spent a lot of time at the house having group meetings about goals and expectations for the summer with Minda, our scholarship group director. We did get walking tours of both Marion and Mullins though. Our tour guide in Marion was the director of the Marion County Museum and my boss while I’m here, Rosanne Black. She showed us main street, cluttered with numerous antique stores, as well as the county archives, where I found some interestingly titled books and interestingly labeled file cabinets:
In Mullins, we got a tour from Reggie who is the curator of the South Carolina Tobacco Museum that is located in the town. Mullins seemed just about as hopping as Marion, which isn’t saying that much. Our tour of the museum was interesting, especially when we got to the exhibit that had a sample kitchen from the 1940’s. Reggie prefaced that exhibit by saying something to the effect of, “Now this is the section that the ladies will enjoy.”
Ladies, Gentlemen, and all you other folk who may or may not identify with the aforementioned categories, I have arrived.
THIS IS ONLY A TEST. DO NOT PANIC!