Archive for May, 2009

Return of the Sunny Day


After four days of spring thunderstorms, it finally dried out to a hot sunny Virginia day today. Good timing for my visit to the  Charlottesville city market this morning,  where I listened to the folk band, bagpipe player, and women playing ukeleles as I shopped. Came home with spring onions, broccoli, fresh bread, and some late asparagus (yum!), and then spent several hours in the fields planting watermelons.

I can only conclude, then, that the Recipe for the Good Life is food + music + sun.


Rurality 101

No pictures today– sometimes I have to rely on words alone. This is probably good for me, given that I’m an English major. Which brings me to…

A book recommendation!


Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman.

I first read this book as a senior in high school, when my father gave it to me (on top of a stack of other books) for my graduation. This is one of the top ten books that changed my life– not necessarily because it was beautifully written (in fact, Postman’s style can be pretty obtuse) but because it provoked me to re-think my relationship to technology, the media, and the world in general. Given that we live in a media-saturated (post)modern world (I am writing a blog post, not a letter, after all), it’s tricky to turn a critical lens on technology. But this book isn’t a sermon, and Postman is no Luddite. Rather, Amusing Ourselves to Death is a historical, psychological, and social exploration of media in the broadest sense, and the evidence that turns up is hard to ignore.

Here’s the foreword, which I’m quoting in full because it’s short and worth reading:

We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.
But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another – slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”. In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.
This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.

After reading AOTD, at 17 years old, I drastically reduced my time on the computer and in front of the television. It wasn’t a disciplinary cold-turkey sort of thing; I actually began to feel physically disgusted in front of a screen. I needed more conversations; more fresh air. More dirt. As a result, I began to reconnect with something I had forgotten: my rural, solitary, Southern, low-income, dirt-filled childhood.

Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m living on a farm. No cell phone service, no internet. Just ploughed fields, piles of scrap metal and construction remnants, and me. Maybe it’s the free time, or maybe because I just finished reading Huckleberry Finn for my senior comps in the fall, but I’ve begun to do really Southern things. Like whittling.

I’m sure my posts will get comically rural over the next few weeks.

Scene 1: Summer. Hot and Humid.


The internet connection here at the farm is sporadic at best, nonexistent in general. Posts will likely be less frequent now that I’m spending more time in the sun and less on the internet, but I’m aiming for once a week.


Holly Tree Farm is essentially the remnants of one of the earliest settlements in the area, and is several hundred years old (more about the history of Advance Mills here). Here’s an excerpt about where I’m working:

The Fray family occupied a still-existing house beside the river, now called Holly Tree Farm. A portion of this house may date to about 1790, although it has been added onto numerous times during its history. It is a typical Federal period house with finely detailed brickwork and some original fireplace mantels. A collection of nineteenth-century outbuildings remains on this property. These outbuildings include an ice house, kitchen, smokehouse, several sheds, and a barn. The house and its outbuildings are significant for their association with the Fray family, as well as for the wide variety of building types and functions they represent.

The article fails to mention that these “outbuildings” also include the slave quarters, which is right next to the trailer where I’m staying. On a side note: it’s fascinating to note the (sometimes excruciating) pains that Southerners go through in order to avoid talking about slavery. Most of these old farms were plantations, complete with racial oppression and exploitation. I’ll need a few more days (or weeks, or the whole summer) to collect my thoughts about that building, but it’s far too overwhelming to leave as a mere side note. 

The owner, Dominique, is hard to pin down. He’s made it rich through D.C. real estate, and I can’t quite tell if he’s approaching the farm as a business venture, a hobby, or what. He’s certainly knowledgeable, and has a lot of contacts and resources for the various projects happening on the property, but he’s also a bit spontaneous and indulgent, with a slight hint of obliviousness about some of the details. Not to mention, he has terrible decorating taste– the trailer that I’m staying in right now is tiki decorated, like a trashy 70’s porn. 

The gardener– young, blond, a local –lives in the old schoolhouse and has two tiny blonde kids, who play around with Dominique’s five kids. This adds up to a total of seven androgynous, barefoot, dirty children. Between the river, the house and barns, the woods, the pastures, and the chicken coop, I barely see them.

I’m excited about this summer, but to be honest also a little apprehensive. Gardening and farming is a way for me to feel a little more stable in this world, but the truth is that farming at this point in history has become a lucrative business. Which is unfortunate, because no matter how “advanced” we see ourselves being in science and technology, we are still going to have to partake at some level in the biological exchange between our bodies and the natural world. 


But Is It A Bad Reason?


Reading Spots, Nooks, and Spaces

My family is… how do you say… Chronically Chaotic, and it’s made me a better person. When my WASP-y friends come to visit, they find my family a refreshing change from their ubiquitous (read: boring) Quiet Clean Household. They exhale. They spill. When I visit their families, I savor the silence.

It seems that everything I do is in response to having grown up in chaos. I love quiet places; I am always searching for peace. I especially love nooks– little places to curl up and hide from responsibility (or from messes, crying/fighting children, and so on). I’ve always kept my dorm room clean, probably because it was impossible to keep a clean room at home.


I’m spending a week at my parents’ house, so lately this has been my favorite place to work/read. It’s a sitting room that I painted and redecorated for them over Spring Break. Whenever I visit, I take this room on as my responsibility– to keep clean, to curl up and read in the sunlight.


I spent the last few days at my cousins’ farm– which meant, any time indoors was spent on this day bed. For good reading spots, windows are a must. A good green view makes daydreaming easier, and sunlight is easier on the eyes if I’m reading a book. Also required: squishy pillows and a harmonious color scheme.

Cover Art Collage

Even as I settle into the beauty that this summer promises, I’m having to plan ahead for my Honors thesis, which I’ll begin in the fall. My reading list is double the size of regular English majors, so… in lieu of actually working, I decided to procrastinate with a pretty collage!

Honors Reading Collage

I judge a book by its cover (don’t lie; so do you). Sort of the same way that I [used to] buy shampoo in the prettiest bottle. Cover art is so interesting, particularly the way that it evolves with each edition. In a Children’s Literature class that I took at Hollins University, we examined the evolution of cover art for The Great Gilly Hopkins— Gilly’s appearance ranges from childlike to adolescent, from tomboyish to very strange sort of hip femininity. I always preferred the original “face obscured by bubble gum” cover. It allowed the imagination to color in the rest.

It’s also always amusing having to read old books that are being re-designed and marketed as chic modern reads– like the Barnes and Noble “Classics” edition of Robinson Crusoe. What is that cover– a mysterious romance novel, perhaps?


Key to the Collage:

1. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
2. Complete Fiction of Nella Larson (I’m assigned Quicksand)
3. Shell Shaker by Leanne Howe
4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
5. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
6. The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
7. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
8. Song of Myself by Walt Whitman
9. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Marie Borroff trans.)
10. Paradise Lost by John Milton
11. Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope
12. Way of the World by William Congreve
13. A Good Man is Hard to Find (and other stories) by Flannery O’Connor
14. The Life and Times of Michael K. by J. M. Coetzee
15. Turn of the Screw by Henry James
16. American Pastoral by Philip Roth
17. Henry V by William Shakespeare
18. Arcadia by Tom Stoppard
19. Sonata Mulattica by Rita Dove
20. Middlemarch by George Eliot
Not Included (but which I still have to read):
Poems of W.B. Yeats
Selected lyric poems by Ben Jonson
Poems of Geoffrey Chaucer
Poems of Anne Bradstreet
Poems by  Theodore Roethke
Shakespeare’s Sonnets: 29, 30, 55, 73, 116, 129, 130, 144, 146

Ink Sample Tests and Reviews

Browns full pageMy ink samples have provided some good art therapy during exam time. Luckily, exams are over and I finally have the free time to post some ink reviews. I ordered:

+ Noodler’s Tiananmen Square
+ Noodler’s Golden Brown
+ Noodler’s Nightshade
+ Private Reserve Black Cherry
+ Waterman Havana Brown
+ Omas Sepia
+ Diamine Blue-black
+ J. Herbin Vert Olive

I tried to scan the test pages, but the colors were so inaccurate that I decided to just take photographs. Note: click on any images to view larger!

Clearly, I prefer neutral inks. They’re much more versatile, and a good neutral ink can be just as interesting as bright turquoise. I tested all 8 inks with a dip pen because I didn’t want to take the time to flush my fountain pen 8 times in a row. Of course, a dip pen gives a much more saturated sample, but they’re all still accurate. I’ve already tried three of these in my Lamy Safari (fine nib) over the past month, and they’ve written only slightly lighter.


Noodler’s Tiananmen is a deep wine red. Somebody on FPN described it as “dried blood red,” which I suppose is accurate. It’s definitely dark, but it’s rich enough that it won’t easily be mistaken for brown. It has good flow and some attractive shading, as you can see below:

Tiananmen Cherry shading

Private Reserve’s Black Cherry is certainly more brown than Tiananmen, but seems to be a true dark maroon. It may be one of those rare colors that actually resembles its name: black cherries! Has visible shading, but less than Tiananmen.

Waterman Havana Brown is a rich chestnut brown with lovely shading. This is a very popular brown, probably because it’s not too red or too yellow. This is a classy color, an ink that says, “Why, yes, I own many leather-bound books.”

sepia shading

Omas Sepia is quite a dark brown, almost identical to Waterman Havana but with less red. You can see in the above picture that it’s the ink with the least shading in the set of samples.

golden brown shading sample

Noodler’s Golden Brown: I love this ink! It’s the color of crystallized honey, or desert sand. I thought at first it would be too light for everyday use, but it dries to a lovely shade that fully legible. I’ve had this ink in my Lamy Safari for the past week and I love it. You can also see from the above image that it has the most shading of all the inks that I ordered– it’s even visible using my fine nib in my Safari.  

Cool Colors

I seem to have ordered far more warm inks than cool ones...

Noodler’s Nightshade is a shade that seems to vary widely depending on the paper and pen. When I first tested it in my exacompta sketchbook, it was a beautiful dusky eggplant color. I was excited because it seemed like it would be a good alternative to black without being too flamboyant. However, when I inked my Safari with this shade, it appeared much lighter and more transparent. 

Diamine Blue-Black is a dark turquoise with some shading. It’s one of the lightest blue-blacks out there, but it’s certainly still a lovely color. 

J. Herbin Vert Olive needs to be used on an absorbent paper to be legible; it’s another ink that dries darker and becomes easier to read. It’s a great “pop” color in my repertoire of neutrals.

Art adventures, literary hangovers, rural politics and other songs worth sharing.

Flickr Photos

Recent Tweets