Friday, July 31, 2009

What do Custer, The Flu Epidemic of 1918, and Dumb Asses have in common?

I'm in the throes of extreme incredulity over a thoughtless statement in a non-fiction book I've started reading. It's titled "The Great Influenza", about the 1918 flu epidemic.

So here's my gripe.

John M. Barry, author of The Great Influenza, published by Viking: 2004 Chapter One, page 11:

"The nation was then ... engaged in different wars simultaneously... In the Dakotas, George Armstrong Custer had just led the Seventh Cavalry to its destruction at the hands of primitive savages resisting encroachment of the white man."

My objection is the casual use of the term "primitive savages" used in the introductory pages of a lengthy book whose subject is the great influenza epidemic of 1918. Did the author and the editor and the publisher never wonder if this particular racial slur and misrepresentation of a culture have any business in this particular book? Did they assume that no Native American persons would EVER read this particular book; no medical doctors, no professors, no high school teachers, no students? I'm not personally suggesting that John M. Barry, his editor, nor his publisher (Viking) should be "politically correct." I'm stating emphatically that the use of this terminology is inaccurate and a blatant misrepresentation of the people who were struggling to protect their homes, culture and families against violent attack.

Let me interject a quote from another book I've just finished reading:

Joseph M. Marshall III, author of The Journey of Crazy Horse, published by Penguin-Viking (same publisher of both books) 2004 Afterword, page 28:

"...the "an Indian is an Indian is an Indian" view of indigenous cultures... They know nothing of the reasons Indians fought so hard to protect their lands and their lives."

The people who "fought so hard to protect their lands and their lives," and their culture, were definitely not primitive; the Lakota were one of many nations on this continent whose entire way of life was based on religion, philosophy and art, and who had, among other myriad attributes, an extensive history of the understanding and use of a pharmacopoeia of medicines and medical practices.

The irony that I happened to be reading these two books concurrently is worth noting. As the Lakota say, "Life moves in a circle." Everything is connected. And if you're planning on using an outdated racial slur, don't slip it into a book published in the 21st century.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Alabama Writers Conclave 2009

On Sunday, July 19th, I attended the last day of Alabama Writers Conclave 2009. We met in Birmingham, which was just fine with me. I had no trouble locating the location!

Last year, the 2008 Conclave was held in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and I, being the intrepid traveler not unlike Dangermouse himself, wisked away to Auburn, Alabama with Nina, an unsuspecting side-kick not unlike Dangermouse's right-hand-hamster Penfold, really. We arrived all agog, and casting our eyes all around Auburn, we soon perceived that there was no Alabama Writers Conclave meeting to be had in that fair city. Well, duh, it was in TUSCALOOSA!

But this year I successfully located the Conclave, which is something like a cross between a coven and an enclave, and accepted with grace, and something approaching dignity, the two awards they slapped on me. My free verse poem Calling Up Magic, and my children's story Uncle Earlie Batson and the Biscuit Angel, each won an Honorable Mention. As my daughter Buffy says, it's always good to be mentioned honorably.
As soon as time permits, I'll post Calling Up Magic here. And as soon as I get my illustrations done, Uncle Earlie Batson and the Biscuit Angel is bound to be published to rave reviews, and on sale at your local bookstore!
Calling Up Magic

I remember the mountain
where mountain trees are tall and wild
with glittering leaves like jewels in blinding sun.
Deep shadows abide beneath those towering trees;
somber shadows where secrets rest,
half-remembered, long-enchanted.
Scattered there are ancient odd-shaped stones,
covered over with moss and willful vines
like strong, possessive arms entwined.

The old dirt road curves along cool, shadowed places,
beneath wild cherry, sweetgum and hickory branches,
emerging into sunlight’s blazing blast;
red sand soft and warm underfoot.
Huge sandstone boulders, summer-hot,
perfume the mountain air with fragrance like no other,
and the smell makes my mouth water,
and the air moves around me, gently caressing
like mountain spirits whispering blessings.

A rough-barked tree shimmers, engulfed, heat laden,
its gnarled exterior shredded and tattered
by a bobcat whose sharpening claws,
over time, have left deep enduring scars.
Birds trill, noisy in the bushes, and
insects hum like a choir of tiny whirring machines.
They are calling up magic, singing incantations
of mysterious joy as dark clouds gather
out of the heavy, languid grip of Alabama summer.
© Ramey Channell

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sept choses que j'aime.

On her blog, Blackberry Creek, my sister Susan chose The Painted Possum to receive this nifty Kreative Blogger Award, which I receive with glee! Now I must list seven things I love. The dificulty lies in narrowing down my choices.

1. Possums... all and sundry. I never met a possum I didn't love.

2. Lightning bugs. The First Lightning Bug Night is one of my favorite celebrations each spring.

3. Fresh cut lumber. Love to smell it! I love waking up in the morning to the smell of fresh wood and the sound of hammering.

4. Rocks. I dig in my yard a lot just to see what kind of rocks may be unearthed. My house is full of rocks of every size and description. I have mysterious rocks, rocks I've stolen, rocks I've painted, rocks people have given me, rocks I've fought over, rocks I've lost.

5. Turtles. I find turtles to be enigmatic and amazing.

6. Marbles. Just as the rocks, my house is full of marbles of every size, age and description. I have mysterious marbles, marbles I've dug out of the ground, marbles I've stolen, marbles I've won, marbles people have given me, marbles I've fought over, marbles I've lost.

7. China dishes. Can't ever have too many sets of dishes. Once my daughter, Buffy, told my best friend, C.J., "Mama has dishes all over the house. She even keeps them under her bed." and C.J. replied "Well, of course she does!"

Now, if I could just locate some dishes with possums on them!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Who Do You Love ?

Bo Didley said that! I must give credit where credit is due. Bo wrote and recorded Who Do You Love in 1956, and it is one of the great rock and roll songs in the soundtrack of my childhood and adolescence.

Do you want to see some 50s or 60s era preteens throwing themselves around in an ecstatic frenzy akin to a religious paroxysm? Just throw Who Do You Love on the turntable, and stand back!

In other news: On her blog, Sourwood Mountain, my sister Joanne posted this request: If you love somebody, or some pet, who most likely never existed, I invite you to post it on your blog, and to tell why you love him or her. Joanne's "somebody" was Lancelot.

I think quite possibly that Lancelot really did exist, in one form or another. And the first person who popped into my mind as someone I have loved who was almost fictitious, and definitely mythical, is Alexander the Great. No doubt about it.

I fell in love with Alexander the Great in about 1976 when I read the novels The Persian Boy and Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault. Renault seemed to capture the personality and spirit of her subject in a way that actually made him seem totally real and believable. I was captivated and intrigued by some of the amazing and romantic facts or legends or myths regarding Alexander.

1. His mother claimed that the king, Philip, was not Alexander's father, but that a god impregnated her. Sounds unlikely, but aspects of Alexander's character, life and death seem very much super-human.

2. After conquering an enemy force, Alexander gave full citizenship and freedom to all those who would swear allegiance to him.

3. After each battle, Alexander kissed each soldier in his army, and this honor was so treasured that anyone who didn't receive a kiss was thrown into inconsolable grief and despair.

4. Alexander's love for his best friend, Hephaistion, was so intense that when Hephaistion died, Alexander built an enormous and beautiful tower as the funeral pyre, placed the body on the summit of the elaborate structure, and burned the whole thing down.

One famous event after the battle of Issus (autumn 333) gives us an idea about Alexander's and Hephaistion's friendship, when Alexander had captured Darius's throne tent and all the royal contents, including Darius's mother, Sisygambis; his wife, Stateira; and his harem.
When Alexander and Hephaistion went to meet Sisygambis, she prostrated herself at the feet of the most kingly figure. She chose by mistake the taller Hephaistion! Alexander is said to have responded rather pleasantly: "Don't worry mother, he is Alexander too."

5. And, Alexander loved his wondrous horse, Bucephalus, so much, he had a giant statue of the horse sculpted, and made the horse a general in the army!

So, while in the throes of this amorous affliction, I wrote an amorphous poem about Alexander. The dictionary tells us that amorphous means without definite shape, and I think that describes my poem, which is more emotion than form.

Alexander of Macedonia
You have left us;
by night we hunger for your voice
still, at this great distance, we hunger
and thirst for the taste of you.
Memories and haunted dreams
like fires, like jewels,
burn across the dark until
your voice awakes the seamless night.
Then I see your face, that aching
long-remembered beauty, loved by others long ago
and now so close to me
I feel your breath against my skin.
You come and go, appear then fade.
Please stay, please stay longer here
in this time and place, so far, so far
from that world you knew before; those days
of gold and fire and battles fought
for kings and kingdoms and promises
never lost, and worlds invented in your eyes,
worlds invented, conquered, then redeemed
by you and your beautiful eyes.
You rode across the earth, called it your own,
then gave yourself, body and soul, to those you conquered,
those you possessed and who would possess you;
soldiers and slaves who cried for your kiss.
Lovers and warriors whose every waking thought
was of you, whose destiny was in your hands
and whose blood fueled your fires; those are the ones
who touched you and were changed forever by your touch.
Those are the ones I envy, the ones who knew you, the ones
you built towers for, towers of flame and honor
and desire and sound. The sound of sacred flame
echoes from your past, a holy noise around you.
Still, I hunger and thirst for you,
and I watch for you in vacant dreams.
Silence drifts like smoke across the starless night
waiting to be filled by the sound of your voice
and the touch of your breath.
At dawn, the fires still burn, and you will go again
to find that distant world you knew.
That other world awaits you still.
Alexander, Alexander,
take me with you.
© Ramey Channell 2001