Wednesday and Thursday, 3.15 and 3.16.2017

We visited Clarksdale yesterday, a city significant to the history of blues music, particularly in the Delta, I think. Professors Chris and Chanelle organized a scavenger hunt for us to complete, and I will admit that it’s a neat idea for seeing the city, but I would have preferred not to do it, because it was harder to get acquainted with and enjoy the town while on a time limit. The items on the list?

  • Mississippi Blues Trail markers: WROX Radio Station, Ike Turner, Sam Cooke, The New World neighborhood, and the Riverside Motel
  • Photo of Robert Johnson
  • Recording of someone in your group (cabin) eating and describing a hot tamale
  • A story told by a citizen of Clarksdale
  • A record from Cathead records store
  • A recording of a group member reading our Arthur Flowers book in “the bluesiest place you can find”
  • One of our syllabus books in the Carnegie Public Library
  • A recording of a group member singing the blues next to the Sunflower River

The hardest two were the hot tamale and the Riverside Motel, the latter of which ended up being struck from the list because it was closed. The hot tamale, however, still had to be completed and we were told by somebody at Cathead to go to Larry’s Hot Tamales, which turned out to be the furthest away, and in a part of town that felt rather sketchy, particularly to my group of us four girls, until we caught up with the guys from Palo Alto, and they walked us to and from the tamale shop.

We tallied up the results at dinner, and Palo Alto was the winner, followed by Tush Hog and Nellie—that’s my cabin—tied for second! Woo! (I was sure we were going to lose when each cabin presented their stories and videos.)

Dinner was actually even more interesting, because this was Nellie’s first communal meal to prepare, and as I put it while running around, “Communal dinner became communal cooking!” See, we decided to cook chicken and beef fajitas because it’s simple and can easily feed the 15 or so people, but…let’s see, Sam says she cannot cook rice (so we joked she’s a bad Latina), so we enlisted the help of Santiago, who cooked the delicious rice for our first communal dinner. But, even then, the first batch was burned, so we had to start over, though I managed to salvage most of it, because only the bottom was really bad. Then, we went to bake the chicken, but apparently the oven in our cabin does not work, so Sam and I raced some salted and peppered chicken on a cookie sheet over to Palo Alto’s cabin to use their oven. We set another pot of rice on, and Santiago prepared another in his cabin, and meanwhile Cristina and Ramsha chopped the peppers and onions, Cristina cooked the beef, and while I was inside, I was more or less on dish duty. (Fun fact: I actually do not like doing dishes, and especially not without rubber gloves, but we had a pile in the sink so I just sort of went in there and went to work!) That ended up being where I could help the most, since I don’t know how to really cook much beyond pancakes and spaghetti. Overall, though, our communal fajitas were successful, and were mostly finished at lunch today!

This morning, after breakfast, we drove the thirty minutes or so from Tallahatchie Flats to the town of Glendora to see the Emmett Till Historic Intrepid Center (E.T.H.I.C.). As I mentioned before, this innocent 14-year-old’s story is what has affected me most this week, and the Center touched on that more than I thought possible, because it gave so much more detail about the case, eyewitness accounts, evidence, and as I walked through the museum and read the signposts describing the story, I loved the amount of detail because as a writer I love a good storytelling, but I hated that the story is true and rooted in a very long history of American hatred. I hate that if I walk down a street alone and I see a black man, I immediately feel wary. Granted, I am a petite white female and a white man can have the same effect on me because of how little I am, but, I think maybe there is still some sense of…not racism, but of difference, and I don’t like how that feels. I don’t like that it’s ingrained into our society, and I know I’m not racist; I have black friends and Asian friends and Indian friends and Muslim friends and more, and they are all wonderful people I would never wish any harm upon. But…why? Why, societally or not, does there have to be any sense of a difference?

It is worth acknowledging that we ended the afternoon on a more positive note. After a lunch of leftover fajitas back at Tallahatchie Flats, we visited the B.B. King Blues Museum in Indianola, and I don’t know a lot about the blues and I know even less about B.B. King, but I liked the experience there. I took a lot of photos.

A 5:30 p.m. reading by Michael Knight at TurnRow, and then dinner in Greenwood. Tomorrow, breakfast is on us, and then we pack up and take off to Jackson. We’re spending our last night in Mississippi at the Quality Inn in Jackson; Ramsha and I looked at each other and, at the same time, “I hope they have quality bathrooms!” 😂

Monday and Tuesday, 3.13 and 3.14.2017

A happy belated Pi Day to you all! 3.14—get it?

Monday and Tuesday… I can’t even really remember what happened, because our days have been so busy, so very much get up in the morning and hit the ground running, and grab coffee at every opportunity. A week as full as it is fulfilling.

Monday morning was our first in the cabins at Tallahatchie Flats, and I woke up early to shower in the tiny bathroom with no lock—very clean though, and that’s what matters, right? On the itinerary for this morning was “early Walmart run with food captains” but several of us went along in search of warmer clothing, too. “Food captains” because each cabin is in charge of two communal meals this week, one breakfast and one dinner, and in my cabin with my friends, vegan Samantha is more or less in charge, so the groceries we picked up were her ideas, and tonight (Wednesday) is our turn to cook, so we are making chicken and beef fajitas with rice, black beans, and guacamole. Simple, classic. After our return from Walmart Monday morning, we had breakfast in what has been dubbed “the adults’ cabin” where our professors are staying, and as soon as that was done, we…did not do what was next on the itinerary! No, it was too muddy to walk down to the Tallahatchie River behind our cabins and the Little Zion Church about a mile away, so instead, we tried to move some activities around. We did briefly visit the abandoned Bryant Grocery store in Money, MS and the Emmett Till markers there, but as it rained, we made plans to just come back later in the week. But Emmett Till…

Emmett Till. He was 14 and from Chicago, visiting relatives here, when he went into Bryant Grocery to buy candy, and spoke to or perhaps whistled—though multiple sources agree that he often whistled to alleviate a stutter—at 24-year-old white shopkeeper Carolyn Bryant. Four nights later, he was abducted at gunpoint from his great-uncle’s house, beaten and tortured and finally shot, and the body dumped into the Tallahatchie with a 75-pound gin fan tied around the neck with barbed wire. After a couple of days it was recovered, and Roy Bryant and his brother J. W. Milam stood trial for the murder of Emmett Till, and acquitted by an all-white jury, despite evidence I think, after a deliberation that hardly took an hour. After double jeopardy attached, both of them confessed, and the entire event helped spark the Civil Rights Movement. Fourteen years old, innocent, leaving a legacy that shouldn’t have had to happen that way. Particularly not to an innocent child, and particularly not because of the color of his skin.

Nobody really talks about racism that way in this country. A lot of the details are omitted from schoolroom lessons, maybe because most of them are too ugly for children to hear. But they need to know. They need to understand what happened, why, and why it’s not right. Of everything we’ve seen so far this week, Emmett Till’s story is what has resonated most with me, and I think that that’s why.

There were a couple of Monday things that did happen Monday, like TurnRow Book Co. in downtown Greenwood, a quaint little bookstore pictured below which we’ll return to on Thursday for a reading by Michael Knight. (No, I don’t know who that is, but maybe then I’ll find out!)


Then we were able to visit the Back in the Day Museum in Baptist Town, owned and run by a Mr. Sylvester Hoover, who took us on a short walking tour of the block, gave a little history, pointed out a couple of landmarks—one, a street corner where bluesman Robert Johnson played.

Monday night, first communal dinner at the cabin called Tush Hog, hosted by Santiago, whose rice game has been on point this week, Jasmin, Michelle, and Kell. Ribs, rice, baked potatoes, broccoli, and deliciousness.

Up early again Tuesday morning—but let’s be real, every morning this week has been and will be an early one—to drive an hour and a half to the college town of Oxford, home of Ole Miss! Which we didn’t visit until later, anyway, as we first breakfasted at Big Bad Brunch—enormous pancakes, excellent coffee—and then toured Rowan Oak, the home of William Faulkner. I will admit that I enjoyed that, even though I did not enjoy his As I Lay Dying. We visited too his gravesite in the city cemetery, where he is buried next to his wife (who outlived him and installed an A/C unit in her bedroom the day after his death), and we did read a few chapters of his book for one of my classmates’ projects.

Visiting Square Books and Off Square Books may have been a mistake, but it was on the itinerary so I couldn’t have avoided it even if I wanted to—which I did not, because my mother raised me right. I spent perhaps $70 in less than one hour, on three books. Absolutely no regrets, not a single one.

The last thing of Tuesday was a walking tour of Ole Miss, and it was very short because it was very cold. I took no pictures, and while Ole Miss is iconic and a beautiful, unique university, I was immensely relieved when we returned to the minivans, out of the wind, and headed back to Tallahatchie Flats.

I am enjoying myself but in 100% honesty, I can’t imagine how relieved I’ll feel this Saturday to load up the minivans for the last time and head on home. 😴

Saturday and Sunday, 3.11 and 3.12.2017

It was probably unreasonable to believe we’d actually be able to leave UH at 9:30 Saturday morning while renting three minivans the morning of and having to coordinate four adults, one baby, and eleven college students—but I feel compelled to point out that each of us students was there on time. Even Samuel, who is notoriously late to class (when he was late for our midterm, Professor Benz put one down on the desk and said, “This is for Sam, whenever he gets here.”) It was the adults who ran late Saturday morning, having gotten held up at Enterprise, and it was closer to 10:45 when we actually shipped out for Natchez, Mississippi. Cue Spring Break!

In Natchez we drove straight to the Museum of African American History and Culture, and it was so nice of the man to still be there, because we were 45 minutes later than we were supposed to have been, and if I remember correctly, the Museum is actually closed Saturdays so it was opened specifically with our group in mind. Very nice of them to do—but, I’ll be honest: the Museum kind of bored me. But, museums tend to be hit or miss with me anyway, and it was very small, rather unimpressive overall, and already it had been a rather long day. After the Museum, dinner at King’s Tavern seemed to be a more promising affair…

It was coooold! We knew it would be, though I think none of us have really felt adequately prepared for that, but I didn’t really realize it on Saturday until we were at King’s Tavern. Fortunately it wasn’t cold inside, but since it is the oldest standing building in Natchez, from 1789, and is rumored to be haunted by the ghost of King’s former mistress, Madeleine—don’t worry, she’s playful—we had to take a look around the property. We went upstairs, and all around the outside. No signs of ghosts…Samantha claims to have seen a sign while taking a photograph of the upstairs room, but no, it’s just the lens flare. The food, chicken pot pie for me, was pretty good. The homemade Sprite was better, and the atmosphere downstairs in that brick-walled cellar room where you dine was very rustic, antique, historic. Very Natchez.

We checked in to a Super 8 for the night, and it was actually my first time in a Super 8 I think, and it was pretty nice! Of course, I think we all knew the cabins would be something of a step down from that, anyway, but hey—few things can beat a roomy bathroom and daily housekeeping service. My roommate for the night was one of my classmates, Ramsha, and I can’t say we didn’t get along, but I can say there wasn’t much interaction anyway because I, tired old lady that I am becoming, pretty much went right to bed.

Sunday did not feel at all like Sunday. My Sundays are fairly structured: get up preferably before 9:00, church at 10:00, then spend the rest of the day in Lake Jackson at Dylan’s. Not this Sunday, nope—in the morning, around 9:00, we checked out of the Super 8 and loaded up the minivans.

We didn’t leave Natchez right away, and for that I’m glad, because if we had then I would have missed out on all the appeal that downtown Natchez offers. A lot of really nice, historic buildings and houses, very picturesque, very scenic, and it’s very pretty to walk along the river. But the first and best was Steampunk Coffee Roasters…

…where I could and should have taken some better shots, but I didn’t want to be obviously snapping photos of the area behind the bar, so I just took this one as discreetly as possible and stopped there. The coffee, Coconut Joe with steamed almond milk for me, was yummy, and the laid-back vibe was even better. I would have been content to just sit inside all day. I talked briefly to one of the baristas, too, for my project, and he had a lot of personality! Got a quote I can use from him, and then Kell, one of my classmates, asked if he had any ghost stories. Apparently Natchez is full of playful ghosts; he told us about an encounter with a little boy one day when he was alone inside Steampunk. The chairs came with metal tags on them, and the tags used to hang all in a row, maybe as some sort of decoration, he made it sound like, and one day, the tags just all shifted one after the other in the same direction, as though somebody had walked alongside with an outstretched hand, running along each tag in passing. Nobody there, but there was a chill in the air, from no place.

I like the idea of Natchez as home to playful ghosts. I like the idea of playful ghosts, period, especially with all the horror movies I watch…

I think, then, naturally, ghosts like to be where the people are—because certainly no evidence of paranormal activity was to be found in Natchez City Cemetery. Too beautiful a place to haunt, perhaps, but certainly the cemetery can be characterized by the evidence of the passage of time. Crumbling rock, rusted wrought-iron fences and some broken gates. A well-kept cemetery though, I think, and very green, but I think the city kind of lets it be, in a way, lets the time pass and the stones crumble, and in that way, speak for themselves. In person I’ve never met a more beautiful cemetery, and if it did haunt me, it would haunt me in a friendlier kind of way. I can’t describe it; I can’t explain it; I just have to remember it.

When we did leave Natchez, we came here, to Tallahatchie Flats, and here we are; this is where I started. We were supposed to have also driven through Rolling Fork yesterday, and visited the ghost town of Rodney, but I don’t believe we really did either. We did have dinner in Greenwood, though, at a place called The Crystal Grill, and I think we bonded over rounds of Two Truths and A Lie.

And then. Then. It was on the way back to our cabins, and in order to return to Tallahatchie from Greenwood, there’s a bridge to drive across. I was in one van with some people, driven by Lynda, and we were behind Chanelle’s van, and Chanelle turned down this short, dark and deserted street to reach the bridge, which was close by and very visible, and we followed. But there was this single man, clean-cut, well-dressed, who wandered around holding a pamphlet or book of some kind in one hand, and Chanelle’s van slowed down a little, as in maybe this man is lost and needs directions, but then she tried to drive around him, while he is walking toward her van. She ends up getting around him. So he turns his attention to our van, and walks toward us—and the thing is, there’s no sign of distress. No clues that he could possibly need any help of any kind, and so he just keeps coming closer, even as Lynda is trying to drive around him, too, and as she steps on the gas, he gets just close enough to reach out and touch our window— …even though he doesn’t, and we make it past, and somebody comments that maybe he just needed directions, but he was too calm, and…well, that’s what Ted Bundy used to do, isn’t it?

Cabin Fever

When I was little, I loved to be outside. I loved to go to the deer lease with my dad—not so much for the hunting, mind you, but I did sometimes shoot rifles, and I’ve felt very at home on a 4wheeler since I was at least six. I loved to swim in my neighbor’s backyard pool, and whenever I stayed with Nonnie, I think I spent more time in her 1.5-acre yard than I did in the house. But the bigger I got, the more I got to be a city girl like my mom. Air conditioning, WiFi, nice bathrooms, comfortable home. Computers and cell phones over sidewalk chalk and sand mountains. And my dad told me recently that “when I started dating, he lost me.” Never went outside then. Never cared for our place in the country. To some extent, I can say he’s right—but I think all I needed there was a nice house, which we now have, and a 4wheeler. That last one really clinched it for me, and now I do enjoy Centerville, if only I could find the time to get there.

But see, right now, I’m typing this on my phone from an uncomfortable pull-out couch bed in a tiny cabin near the Tallahatchie River in Greenwood, Mississippi. The Delta. And this is not my preferred kind of lifestyle—though in hindsight it kind of reminds me of the camphouse that used to sit on the plot of land that was a favorite old deer lease of mine, in Kirbyville. Where I had all of my friends, when I was six or so. I still have a photograph somewhere.

But this…okay, to be honest, it’s actually better than I expected when I heard that my Honors class would be staying in sharecropper cabins for most of the week. There is even supposed to be WiFi, though I can’t find it here and don’t know the password anyway. No—it’s not ideal, but then, it wasn’t ideal when they were still sharecropper cabins, either. Ideally…well, idealism is unrealistic, and often doesn’t make for great exposure to experience.

I am tired, and I think the entire rest of this week will be spent in a state of tiredness. It’s hard to catch Z’s in a minivan, particularly one where there is a busy baby, but that also seems to be the most comfortable one to ride in, as far as I’m concerned. Anyway. I’d like to go into detail as much as possible about this week, but that simply won’t be possible, so I’ll have to do what I can to document and most of it will come after the fact. Probably waaaay after the fact. There are also pictures, most of which will not be posted here, but view them on my Instagram.

I will write more. But we are expected to get up early to drive an hour and a half to Oxford tomorrow, so, for now, I’ll catch those Z’s.

Until later. 📸

To Do Lists and Extroverted Introversion

I recently read a Refinery29 article about a girl who finds it hard to say “no” to invitations and requests and therefore decided to conduct an experiment about staying home for seven days, and I thought, “I wish I had the time to do that” because that sounds exactly like something I would love. Spring Break is coming up, which would be the perfect opportunity, except this year I’m traveling to Mississippi with my Honors class to immerse myself in the history and culture of the Delta and emerge with a creative final project that I have yet to figure out…

I know we often say we don’t have the time when we actually do, but I think in this case it’s truthful to say that I don’t have an entire week to dedicate to this kind of experiment—though I definitely have a To Do list long enough to keep me busy for a whole week and after! I think a defining characteristic of adulthood is that your To Do list never really gets any shorter…

My birthday did sneak up on me this year like I figured it probably would, amidst all else going on: my parents returned from Saudi Arabia early so my dad could have surgery done on his shoulder here in the U.S., trips to our place in Centerville, Valentine’s Day, my best friend’s bridal shower, everyday errands, work, classes, and there’s probably more I’m missing… And it came, and then it went, and then it was Valentine’s Day, and today my parents are leaving on a jet plane again while I look at my calendar and try desperately to figure out where my month went, all the while knowing the rest will disappear in much the same fashion.

I get a lot of satisfaction out of productivity. Mom and I went for pedicures Monday, and I was telling her how I could check that and “buy nude shoes for Bailey’s wedding” off my To Do list now, and she laughed, “You get a lot of satisfaction out of checking things off that list, don’t you!?” She knows me well. But, every week, if I can stay in for just one day, I also get a lot of satisfaction out of that, and I think it’s healthy because it gives me time to be alone with my “extroverted introvert” self and recharge. Maybe it doesn’t often happen anymore…this week will be the third, I think, without this kind of day…but such seems to be the nature of my life nowadays. Gotta change that.

After work today, I’m off to read the next fifty pages of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying for my Honors class tomorrow and finish my short story for my Creative Writing class exercise, which I have titled, “One Cup of Coffee, Black.” Then I have two upcoming French exams to study for. Somewhere in there I’d like to fit pleasure reading, home manicure, and perhaps also shaving my legs and walking my dog. Wish me luck.


Inspiration Citations

“I Create Myself.”

For Christmas, Nonnie gave me the subscription to Bella Grace magazine that I’ve wanted for months. The winter issue is sitting on my nightstand, waiting to be turned over in my hands and enjoyed. And it’s easy to want my life to line up like those presented in the pages, in the words and pictures that different women submit for publication. The same with the different people introduced and interviewed in episodes of the Tranquility du Jour podcast. It’s easy to want to be like those people, in all the ways they are similar and the ways they are different, what they take from the world and what they give back. But if I were, would that really be me, or would that be more me just being like everyone else?

What about who I am versus who I want to be? Can I fully become the person I want to be?

I wondered if I’d touched on this before, and I don’t think I really have, so I’ll play with it now. When I think about the person I want to be, I’m not really sure what I see.

I walked into the Cougar Grounds coffee shop on campus a few weeks ago, and I caught my reflection in the window, and I remember thinking, “looking for all the world like a basic white chick” because I was wearing white skinny jeans tucked into a pair of expensive “premium” rain boots, a Hollister chambray button-down with silver fabric paint and costume gems sewn on the collar, carrying an umbrella and a Vera Bradley backpack. Yes, basic white chick. Something I’ve known for a while, and first I was okay with it, and then it kind of bothered me, and now I’m okay with it again. I took a quiz recently, actually, and the result was that I have basic white girl tendencies, which makes more sense because I hate Starbucks coffee (though their food and Frappuccinos are delicious) and I don’t own a single pair of UGG boots. But more than that, I realized, I feel pretty comfortable this way.

Another thing I realized recently, I should stop saying “I want to be a writer” because I am one. No matter whether I write every day, or not for six months, that does not change the fact that inherently I am one. I will always want to write. I will always want to create. I will always find journaling therapeutic, and I will always be engaged in a love affair with words and caffeine.

That doesn’t mean that where I am right now is enough. I think it’s still a journey: toward more tranquility, toward more maturity, more worldliness, more independence. More mysteriousness—by which I mean simply being a more private person. Keeping things closer to the vest, the way I used to, the way my junior-high Social Studies teacher commented on when I was in sixth or seventh grade. I liked how it sounded then, and I like how it sounds now, and that is what I want. But even through all of this, who I already am does not disappear, and does not have to be lost in translation. Something to be aware of as I go along.

If you drop a pebble into a pond, it creates a ripple effect. Chaos Theory says that if a butterfly takes flight in Tokyo, eventually, the air current caused by the wings can lead to a hurricane in Florida. Maybe exactly that is hard to believe, but consider that your choices continue to affect your life and to shape you long after they are made. You make those choices; you create the long-term effect. I do, too, and I think in this way, I create myself. I create who I am, and I have the potential to create who I want to be, through my choices, my attitudes, my perspectives, every day.

Who will you be today? Tomorrow?

2.2.2017, 8:47 a.m. : Nostalgia Remembers

I’m thinking alot* about OLQP now because my last exercise for ENGL 4350: Short Story Writing was to write about, describe, a place, from place to people, and that’s what I picked. I renamed it as Shiloh Christian, of course. I get the feeling we’d still be in Prayer and announcements now, but no, I think we’d be in class now. I don’t know which class, depending on which year, and I think of eighth and sixth grades, when we were all together in one class. At that time, the biggest single class the school had ever seen, at about 25. Maybe mostly eighth, when it was for the last time. And the more I think about it, the more I want to remember. The details. The day in and day out, the familial ties, the crushes, the friendships, all overlapping in familiar, innocent, insecure instances of the best of the youthful years flying by faster than anything. When we were all inevitably tied together like the ponytails my girl friends and I wore practically every day, and when it was weird to run into any of them, by chance, out in town, but at least we knew each other, but now, an awkward strangers’ silence where we might smile uncomfortably, or comfortably in recognition at first before hurrying on and the moment is lost, if we even recognized each other at all.

And everybody knew everything about each other, and the teachers knew the rest, and every day was like a comfortable routine, and…I wasn’t unhappy, even as I worried about fitting in with the “popular” girls who weren’t really, and everybody sat together at lunch anyway because that’s the way it worked, and oh!—for when that was all I really had to worry about. When my friends would ask me where we had to go next during the school day because I was always the first or so to memorize our class schedule each year, and I was the only one who could or maybe would scale the side of the wood porch outside the trailer rooms where our main classes were, to retrieve something someone had accidentally dropped into the muck below, and that one time I had to hold onto a post to lean out over the mud and Van had to pry my hand off of it because I couldn’t reach the pen but didn’t trust him not to drop me, and I in my khaki uniform skirt that day, and we must have looked a pair, some weird sort of physics experiment, maybe, with our classmates gathered round. None of the teachers liked to see those antics, but I was never written up for it. Nor for technically being “out of uniform” that day at the end of the year when Jenna shook a bottle of purple paint and the top wasn’t all the way on and it splattered everywhere, all over our graduation poster and a library book and my skirt? I begged Mrs. Raiff not to make me change clothes, and she didn’t. It was afternoon, anyway, maybe around 1:00 or 2:00 or 3:00. It wasn’t all day.

The iron black fence wasn’t always there, and neither was the inner gate just beyond that same porch. Not until after the front field was converted to a busy highway. But I suppose nobody had really played in that field for years, anyway. That playset, two stories, narrow, used to be a bright, bright blue with a yellow slide, but I think it was repainted, moved to the back yard. The color wasn’t right, I remember thinking, it was darker… The top of the jungle gym next to it was for “royalty.” The playground, red and grey and dark blue with a bright blue slide “eight feet” tall, was everything when we played “the game” with no rules, no specifications, but we understood it anyway, and the back field, smaller, gated, next to the pavilion, was everything else.

“Because when you’re young and on top of the world, you can love anything.”

And when you’re not as young, as I’m about to be 23 next week, not 14 again, and not as on top of the world but now with the world at your feet… Sometimes now I look back on who I used to be, how I used to feel, as I sat in those classrooms, with those friends, and I remember…and nostalgia colors those memories rose.

*Alot because I always knew it should have been written as a lot and Mrs. Haffelder would mark it wrong on all of my papers, but I would write so fast, and I only did it to save time, and I do it here for memory’s sake.