Archive for August, 2009

Some Pen and Ink Pieces

Trying out my new nibs with watercolors and watersoluble pastels…

Long Jacket

Long Jacket detail

and this one ain’t done yet:

In Progress

Accents, Vernaculars, & Slang

I have some Strong Feelings about accents. And no, I’m not referring to a fetish for Italian accents (actually, accent fetishes are a pretty big pet peeve of mine).

I just discovered that, like African American Vernacular English (AAVE), Southern American English gets an acronym too (SAE)! Unfortunately, it’s the same acronym as Standard American English, which causes some problematic confusion, but it can be forgiven.

I’ve also been reading a bit on the linguistic overlap between African American Vernacular English and Southern American English, which makes sense for a couple of reasons:

1) The Southern United States is historically the area most reliant on slavery, and therefore had a much higher population of enslaved black individuals than other areas of the country. Historians are now discovering that other historical local cultures were far more diverse than we had previously assumed– cowboy culture, for example: there was a significant population of black cowboys who had escaped slavery and traveled west. Nonetheless, even after slavery was ended, various unjust laws meant that a large portion of the black population remained in the South. So obviously, there’s been linguistic overlap between black and white Southerners.

2) Both of these vernaculars are looked down on, if not outrightly ridiculed, in a similar way within the United States. Other accents certainly encounter tensions and problems as well– a woman with a Spanish accent is often suddenly transformed (at least in the listener’s mind) into a voluptuous, sexual, hot-tempered stereotype, and Asian accents are most ridiculed for being the most humorous and/or difficult to understand. But at least in my experience, Southern and Black vernaculars are the most clearly associated with being uneducated and unintelligent.

A fair bit of cultural attention has been given to the topic of African American Vernacular English (AAVE), from the 90’s controversies over teaching “ebonics” in school systems to questioning President Obama’s adoption of a “blackcent.” I remember watching a funny-ish (at least at the time) special on VH1 back in high school about the drastic difference between Tyra Banks’ accent and voice depending upon whether she was interviewing a black or a white individual.* I was talking to a friend recently who went back to visit her family’s farm in Alabama after her father’s death. She said that she and her daughter spent the entire time being harassed by the extended family for being impossible to understand. “I kept telling them, ‘we’re just speaking correctly, we’re just trying to speak well,’ but they wouldn’t stop.” A friend of mine from New Orleans told me about a professor friend at LSU, who has one vernacular– accentless, and with correct grammar –when he gives a lecture, and a completely different voice the rest of the time. I met a woman in Washington D.C. who rolled her eyes when telling me about all the savvy DC residents who assumed that she was uneducated and/or unintelligent because she was from the Carolinas.

Think about how you are likely to imitate someone who says something stupid. Almost all of the time, the imitator adopts some version of a southern accent– even if the original speaker has no ties whatsoever to the American South. Even I do this, exaggerating my own accent, and I always feel gross immediately afterwards. It’s clearly an accent associated with redneck and hillbilly stereotypes, but the accent-intelligence assumption extends even to the privileged. A southern belle, for example, is often white and rich and worthy of playing the babe in a few Hollywood movies– but she is not often portrayed as the most intelligent creature.

So I’ve picked up a bit of a drawl after having been back with my family for the summer. I didn’t notice it until I came back to school, where a handful of gracious people have taken care to point it out. Or to be more precise, have made fun of it. For a girl with Something To Say, it is very frustrating to have your statement ignored while your diction becomes the subject.

Many white people don’t realize that accents are heirarchical. I want to amend that statement, though, by saying that many Northern white people don’t realize this. Or perhaps, Northern educated white people. It seems like an increasingly small group, but it’s the group that dominates the majority of U.S. politics, economics, educational system, and mainstream media. And they don’t recognize the accent hierarchy because they’re on the privileged end of the diction spectrum.

My point is bringing this up is that, when people pay attention to the way you say something, they ignore what you are saying. I go to a fairly prestigious school; I feel like there should be a general assumption that any student or professor here is intelligent. It turns out, though, that a lot of rich white kids are dumb as hell.

Here’s a few things I like on this topic:

*I noticed also that when I googled “ebonics” (to try to find the link about the Oakland controversy), that of the 92 user-submitted definitions on urbandictionary.com, the one that shows up in the google results is “a poor excuse for a failure to grasp the basics of english.” If I were a kinder soul, I wouldn’t mention that this definition is actually grammatically incorrect (which I think undermines the already somewhat racist sentiment).

History of the Orchard

Orchard

At times the world seems to demand a moment of reflection: to bring your feet together and stand still, to breathe deeply the newly-crisp air.

In Virginia I was only just beginning to feel it: the peak of Harvest time, full of watermelons. But the academic calendar forced me to jump start a new season, driving north and skipping a few weeks forward into cooler weather.

So I thought (in my moment of reflection) that it would be a good time to revisit The Orchard. You know, that mental place where ripe ideas hang low on the branches, the namesake of this humble blog.

Ironically, I was sorting through poems entitled “The Orchard” when I came across a poem by Kathleen Norris, whose book of nonfiction sits just to my left, dog-eared halfway through. Her book Dakota got me through last Spring Break the same way that In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens saved me a few years ago. The poem is titled “The Monastery Orchard in Early Spring,” and ends:

Encounter with fruit is dangerous:

the pear’s womanly shape forever mocked him.


A man and a woman are talking.

Rain moves down and

branches lift up

to learn again

how to hold their fill of green

and blossom, and bear each fruit to glory,

letting it fall.

*   *   *

In one sense, the orchard resembles the garden in parallel world mythologies and fairy tales. It is enclosed; it is forbidden; it is the realm of the gods. More than the garden, though, the orchard is immortal; it is old (these are trees, after all, not daffodils).

Poor Persephone, who ate the pomegranate seeds from Hades’ orchard and was thus tied forever to the world of the dead. The Monkey King, on the other hand, stuffed himself with the Peaches of Immortality, setting off a long chain of events which ends with his elevation to Buddhahood. But Pomona, the wood nymph, tried to enclose herself in her orchard in order to keep suitors away, and was eventually forced to marry Vertumnus. Daphne too, being chased by Apollo, turned into a tree. Coincidence?

It’s a complicated place, the orchard: women running every which way, trying to find safety in trees, or running away from them. Some do find safety; others are victim to Trickster’s invasion (The Monkey King is China’s Trickster figure; Vertumnus disguises himself as an old woman to seduce Pomona, the Norse Trickster god Loki allows for the theft of the goddess Idun’s orchard, which contained the apples of immortality).

It’s a place where women, having always been the target of theft alongside the other ‘forbidden fruits,’ are beginning to climb trees.

And some are wandering into the woods, which are equally immortal but a bit more crooked than the orchard’s rows. Women are re-learning how to graft trees, which is the method for repairing fruit trees, and for making hardier breeds. Beautiful beautiful, to be grafting new trees from history.

Others are writing in the shade, resulting in something like Alice Walker’s Celie, who says, “my first step from the old white man was trees.”

Back to School, and Spreading The Links

I’ve left the South, the humid home of my heart (too much alliteration?). I got in the car wearing shorts and a tank top, and when I stepped out of the car in north-ish Ohio, the temperature had dropped a good twenty degrees.

So here are a few things that keep me grounded in the topics I care about, no matter what state I’m in.

Delicious Food and Strong Women

I’ve been meaning to give some publicity about a super post, “Feminism through Cooking,” over at RMJ’s blog.

Kenyon’s psychology department contains several of the national leading experts on eating disorders, especially media images and eating disorders. Although these are serious issues that require confrontation, I found that I was disappointed with the effect that the department seemed to have on the women students around me. It seemed like every girl I met had bad self esteem, a history with eating disorders, and–here is what really struck me– they seemed to take it as an essential part of their identity. Furthermore, these girls complained about their relationships with men, and yet continued to act in unhealthy ways that deprived them of their own autonomy.

Women for Women Int'l: a group of graduates who have formed a farm collective in Kyonza, rwanda

Women for Women Int'l: a group of graduates who have formed a farm collective in Kyonza, rwanda - ggInTheField on Flickr

What seemed to be lacking was a pro-active approach, something that would change their own relationship to food (and perhaps to men) in a positive way. Instead of critiquing the same commercials and magazine ads over and over, they could have read Francis Moore Lappe‘s studies of women’s communities in Central America who are remodeling their food system in order to better ensure that their children all get regular meals, or communities of women in India who are fighting for (and winning) food and water rights.

They could have studied also the effects on young urban/suburban women who work or intern on farms. In a scene from The Real Dirt on Farmer John, a young woman intern talks about her self-consciousness regarding her voluptuous body– until working on a farm, where adjectives like “full” “plump” and “juicy” are words that signify health, not ugliness. In fact, the strongest and most peaceful women that I meet are not the ones that I meet in WGS classes; they’re the ones that I meet on farms.

For further reading:

When my generation of women walked away from the kitchen we were escorted down that path by a profiteering industry that knew a tired, vulnerable marketing target when they saw it.“Hey, ladies,” it said to us, “go ahead, get liberated. We’ll take care of dinner.”

Hunting the MC1R Recessive Variant Gene

redhead

ah yes, the rare "hot redhead"

I thought I’d take a break from all the art posts to get  little serious. And yes, it turns out that hair is serious enough to have its own post. (Isn’t everything more political under the surface?)

AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL OPENER (EXTENDED REMIX!):

So I grew up with red hair. I guess I still have it, but I’ve kept my hair short enough the past three years that it doesn’t look red most of the time. Even as I write this I can hear all the reasons why this is silly to talk about: I’m still very much a member of a privileged Anglo-Caucasian class. A few red haired feminists have tried (inappropriately) to compare their experience to racial oppression (and in my opinion, generally end up sounding stupid). Basically, if I really think my hair color was an influence on my upbringing and my character today, then I probably just have a very weak personality.*

But just for kicks, I’ll continue with a little self disclosure.

I have this memory of third grade, I think, of sitting in the hallway with the rest of my grade, all waiting to be picked up by our parents. A group of U.P.G.’s (Ubiquitous Popular Girls) down the hall call over to me, telling me to stand up. I turn deep red (due partly to the fact that these girls never spoke to me and partly to early unrecognized lesbian crushes) and I stammer a bit, and ask why. They laugh and tell me again. So, uneasily playing along, I stood up. (Why? I don’t know). The U.P.G.’s continue to laugh, and then they tell me to turn around in a circle. I wonder if my fly is down, if there’s a hole in the seam of my pants, if my body is really ugly enough to laugh at, and (here is where the logic goes totally out the window), I obey them, and turn around in a circle.

I’m actually not sure what the original purpose of this prepubescent ceremony was (maybe my seam really was ripped), but I did overhear one comment that has been amplified in memory– somebody was laughing about how my hair clashed with my tie dye shirt (shut up– this was the early 90’s and their clothing was just as bad). Even in memory, I give them full permission to laugh at my clothes, but I can’t seem to shake the feeling of being pushed onto a stage, being rotated and exhibited for a laugh Scarlet Letter. The comment about the hair, and the unfortunate fact that the spiral tie-dye pattern happened to center on my ass, all sort of culminates in a general feeling of freakish exhibition.

So, middle school. Not a good time for anyone, and I won’t dwell. To make a long story short, I sell my soul to have a social life, and a few boys begin talking to me. And one day C.P., an outgoing Italian kid with braces, asks me “if the drapes match the curtains.” I am unable to hide my confusion, and the boy standing next to him explains: they want to know if my pubic hair is the same color as my [head]hair. The worst part is, I didn’t know which was the “right” answer: “yes” (“oh, that’s totally bizarre and disgusting!”), or “No” (“oh, I guess you’re not as fiery and sexually adventurous as we thought”).

Amazingly, this is not the only time that I receive this question over the next few years. Clearly, I went to school with some tactful kids.

aaRedheadRealMn

So my red hair became sort of inseparable from my own sexuality– yet I wasn’t sure if having red hair meant that I was sexual (and therefore desirable), or freakish (and therefore totally undesirable). Adults fawned over it, and constantly touched my hair without asking me. At the same time, boys my own age told me straight up that blondes were the hottest, and then brunettes, and then maybe red hair could be hot, but only if she’s tan (…wtf at that genetic combination).

Which brings me to a series of memorable moments that have all sort of blended together into a general feeling of humiliation. I’m at a pool party, and when I come outside from changing into my bathing suit, the entire group of kids laugh and fake-scream at me to put on clothes– because my pale skin is blinding them (highlight: a boy that I have a pseudo-crush on pretends to fall off the diving board) (I’m also the only girl wearing a one-piece bathing suit, but that’s just icing on the adolescent cake). As a result, I go out in public far too many time with orange knees and muddy brown ankles after yet another experiment with self tanner. I repeatedly get asked if I’m related to that girl from the Parent Trap (ironically, another young red-haired pre-lesbian, Lindsay Lohan) even though we look nothing alike.

And on, and on…

In high school, a long-term boyfriend (that I’m for serious in love with) tells me I won’t be attractive if I cut my hair. I respond by asking my guy friends for second opinions… they back him up.

So two weeks after graduation, I cut my hair. But that, dear readers, is a whole different story: about hair, gender, and the shithead clerk at the tobacconist who took one look at my old license photo and told me I made a mistake in cutting my hair.

450px-Redhead_close_upALL OF THIS IS TO SAY…

Maybe that’s why I was so fascinated when I read about a waitress who was awarded £18,000 (almost $30,000, I think) for workplace harassment over her red hair. And I was even more bemused by the comments:

“This is just the kind of banter that you get when working in places like this, bars, cafe’s, hotels, take-aways, etc, etc. …. Questions about hair colour, body parts, and sexuality arise because generally the type of person to take a front line job in the industry has the type of personality that is outgoing and confident enough to take this as a joke.”

So, if a person is “outgoing and confident,” that means she shouldn’t speak up about inappropriate comments! Right, totally understandable. And apparently, there are a hell of a lot of places that a woman can’t work if she’s going to stand up for her own privacy and wellbeing: bars, cafes, hotels, takeaways, etc, etc.? Damn.

“Why the case was ever brought is ridiculous. Think back to the days of wolf whistles and lewd remarks when females walked by building sites – did they receive any payouts, no, of course not.”

So, I’m not sure I quite understand– is this commenter saying that because women have been mistreated and their complaints suppressed in the past, that they should be mistreated and suppressed now?

You get the point. I do, however, agree with some of the commenter’s critiques that the monetary award is skewed, to say the least. It’s not that Ms. Primmer doesn’t deserve the money; it’s that she’s most certainly benefiting from white privilege in this case, while thousands of complaints from black, latina and asian women go ignored and unresolved. (See? And you thought this was going to be a redhead pity post).

One of the redhaired commenters is a good example, deeming her own experience “racial abuse.” Oh my. The fact is, redheads are not considered by any general party to be a “race,” and therefore it is impossible for a redhead to suffer “racial abuse.”** It’s also highly unlikely that redheads experience any form of discrimination: a potential employer might harass you about your hair, but he’s not likely to block you from the job position. Redheads can, however, be subject to bigotry and harassment, which can (and does) exacerbate other forms of oppression such as sexual harassment and class inequality.

And that sucks. Now, who’s up for a martini?

___

* Just to be clear: I don’t know why my hair has always felt like such a defining feature of my life. Maybe it’s just a metaphor for more abstract difficulties I was facing. And frankly, between court cases, bankruptcy, mom’s cancer, and having sex wayy to early, having red hair was a mild and underlying influence at best. Hair color isn’t predominant; it’s just defining, in a strange sort of way.
** While the Irish have suffered intense and violent racism in both the US and England, redheads still make up only 10% of Ireland’s population (at least according to Wikipedia), so red hair was by no means a primary catalyst or marker for their oppression.

Paired: Neoart Pastels and Flexible Nibs

I’ve always felt that chalk pastels were a bit classier, I suppose. Maybe it’s because they feel less like crayons. They also allow a wider variation in texture and style– I’ve seen pastel paintings that look like they were done with oils, and others that utilize the a rougher “pastel-y” texture. And yes, oil pastels tend to be used more in the crafting and DIY world, particularly in textiles and art journals.

But it’s good for me. The same way that watercolors allow me to experiment with abstraction and accident, pastels are encouraging me to get a little messy.

I wanted to include some text on these pieces, and the only way I could think of doing that (besides Sharpies) was to use India ink with a dip nib. In a fortuitous coincidence, I’ve just received some beautiful nibs from a generous stranger in the mail!

I used Caran D’ache’s Neoart watersoluble pastels for the background (can you tell I only own two colors?), and then went back in with some Neocolor II’s. The Neocolor II’s are also wax pastels, but they’re oil-based, and I discovered that not only are they difficult to write over, but they dry to a waxy sheen which is much less pleasant than the Neoart pastels. I also have to give credit to The Blog Formerly Known As The Blue Cottage, for giving me the idea of scratching into the dried pastel work in order to give it more texture. These were all done in my handbound summer sketchbook, on Arches hot press watercolor paper.

The Hand

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Hand  Detail 1Hand Detail2

Sunshine

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Sunshine Detail1Sunshine Detail 2

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