The Carpet Bagger's Journal — moving from NYC to Mississippi

December 8, 2010

White People on Display in a Venerable Institution–A Call for Papers on Whiteness

These people are white, in case you are untutored in such analyses

I’ve applied to this conference to present my paper on The Mikado — where I argue that white people bizarrely decided they wanted in the late 1800s to inhabit their Japanese knick-knacks.  I’m not entirely sure I wouldn’t like to do that right now.

Anyway, if I go, I get to stay a couple of nights on that OTHER Oxford’s campus, and perhaps I will acquire a vaguely British accent by the time I get back — what Carrie Bradshaw referred to as a touch of “The Madonnas.”

I imagine that being asked to even stand near the janitor’s closet at Oxford gives one a certain credibility in academia.  I imagine finding that slip of paper that fell out of  Chaucer’s pocket after an unusually rowdy drinking game on Michaelmas.  In it I find the answer to all things.  I am then hailed, after my critical work appears, as the greatest scholar of my generation — all because somebody invited me to stand near the Janitor’s closet in July in Oxford in the context of an academic conference.

They are going to study white people.  I am not sure I like that idea.  I mean, I’ve heard that they like to take over countries.

It sounds interesting — a study of white people?  In their natural environments?  I imagine the following titles to accepted conference papers:

  • Crushing the Beer Can: Angry White Male Sublimation in a Globalized Context
  • Twinkies From Scratch: Filling the Void of Suburbia with Whipped Cream Werldschmerz
  • Andy Griffith for President: Mayberry and the Tea Party
  • Baby Got Back? Lamentation and Skinny Buttock Syndrome
  • The New Global South and The New Global Trailer Trash
  • Double-Knit Dichotomies: Fashion Victimization in the American Heartland
  • Corgis and The British Monarchy
  • The Shopping Mall Speaker Putsch: Kenny G.‘s Insidious Rise to Power
  • Fear of Garlic and Nordic Superstitions — an Ancient-World Understanding of Flavorlessnes
  • The Pearl and the Clitoris: A Queer Critical View of The Junior League

Anyway, I’m sure the conference organizers are much more enlightened than I am and will put together an even better grouping of critical works than I have presented here.

Further details and information for the 2011 meeting of the Whiteness: Exploring Critical Issues interdisciplinary research and publications project

via A Global Network for Dynamic Research and Publishing.

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November 10, 2010

Drinking an “Autumn Collins” at Snackbar in Oxford, Mississippi

Autumn along the Mississippi River

Every New Yorker knows that there are times to worry, or at least where worry might be a first impulse.  In Mississippi, I am learning that there are times to relax, and autumn is definitely one of them.

As I drive down Interstate 55 toward Memphis, my I-Pod plays me this lyric sung by the Dixie Chicks:

Who doesn’t know what I’m talking about
Who’s never left home, who’s never struck out
To find a dream and a life of their own
A place in the clouds, a foundation of stone

By the time they hit the three part harmony for “Wide Open Spaces,” I’m singing along with them, and yes, in a state that has only 62 people per square mile, I do indeed have room to make my big mistakes, as the song goes, but I don’t think I’m making any big ones right now.

I hit the cruise control button on my husband’s new car — he has given it to me to drive because he loves me — and I take my foot off the gas.  I take a deep breath.

I see trees everywhere I look.  The trucks on the highway are distant.  I motor through a canyon of gold, brown, touches of red, some splotches of green.  The cows ignore me as I whizz past.  The haystacks, rolled round and bound with wire, stand sentinel in the field but don’t fire.

The Dixie Chicks continue:

She traveled this road as a child
Wide eyed and grinning, she never tired
But now she won’t be coming back with the rest
If these are life’s lessons, she’ll take this test

I don’t have any tests to take, but I am leading a panel discussion at a conference this Saturday morning at the University of West Georgia.  I need to turn in about 50 pages of text in a week or two, and every time I think I’ve finished my research, I find more to read on my subjects.

While this feels a little pressureful, it honestly is a walk in the park compared to other experiences in my life.  It is a cruise toward Graceland and Sun Records compared to a bad day in Brooklyn.  While there are certainly days in Mississippi where everything goes catastrophically wrong for some individuals, usually one at a time, in comparison to a semi-annual disaster that almost every New Yorker experiences — a burglary, a near-rape, a you-just-got-fired-right-before-Christmas, a your-husband-is-sleeping-with-your-friend and she sees no reason to hide this from you — in Mississippi, where there is right and wrong, where the roads are empty, where lines in government offices are short, where if you failed to fill out form 42 that was required, they might actually have a copy on hand that you can fill out right now, don’t worry — a bad day is not often a catastrophic day.

In Mississippi, my colleagues go out for drinks and tacos.  Last night, after a class discussing the implications to Victorian mores of the novel Dracula, instead of fearing rustling in the dark that might be from vampires, I joined a group of them around a long table at Snackbar on North Lamar, and I had an absolutely delicious cocktail they called an “Autumn Collins.”  Actually, I had two of them.  They had some kind of artisanal sweet potato liqueur in them.  I used to take vodka martinis at Dorothy Parker‘s old haunt — the Algonquin lounge — and I miss the dry martinis there, the tuxedoed waitstaff, and the cat named Matilda.  However, I wonder if the Autumn Collins might not become my seasonal drink from now on.

The Dixie Chicks wrap up:

She knows the highest stakes
She knows the highest stakes
She knows the highest stakes
She knows the highest stakes

The words are ominous, but the melody of the song, the song of my open road, it is blissful, and I stretch my leg out.  The cruise control works fine.  I am thinking deep thoughts and writing them down.  However, I might just find my way to a good conversation in Georgia, a juke joint, a falling leaf, a sizzling catfish in a pan, a hug, a hymn, a “momma says it’s gonna be alright.”

I’m learning to relax.  I might just set a spell.

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