Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving Loam

                                     “Loam can be topsoil, but not all topsoil is loam. 
                                                           Topsoil is about location. 
                                                                       Loam is about composition.”   

Teenagers are stupid. I don’t know why they get cursed with both angsty-hormones and incomplete knowledge. 

My particular brand of white, teenage, angst developed around the general concerns in the air. The System, The Man (his evil boss, The White Man), and identity categories. 

I spent my angsty-years in a small town bordering an Indian Reservation. I didn’t have a lot of friends in High School (from the town, the Rez, or otherwise).  I didn’t know much of my surroundings. It took me thirteen years post-High School to ever actually go to the Rez.

I do remember I-81 being shut down, a building or two burning down, the ever-changing graffiti on the billboard, learning about AIM during gym class. I saw these things. 

I like to think that I would have automatically known that the blue guys in “Avatar,” and the mud people in “The Lord of HE WENT TO JARED!” movies rely on regressive native stereotypes. 

Or that I would have watched things in Ferguson with the same heart.

I like to hope I would have been smart enough as a teenager to figure out the messed-up-ness of Columbus Day, no matter where I was living. But I doubt it. Columbus Day hurts my heart and my head (in that order).

Thanksgiving, alternatively, hurts my head first, then my heart. I love that the Thanksgiving story of first contact is about helping immigrants, and feeding them when they needed help. I hate that the Thanksgiving story of first contact has highly limited contemporary application.

I love Love LOVE a secular holiday set aside for being thankful and grateful. I hate Hate HATE that it exists to revise the myth of this land is your land, this land is my land.

For a blog about Soil, I have to tell my story about Land.  It is all I can do to not make a Dawes Act piñata, or a Manifest Destiny punching bag. Bite the curb, Andrew Jackson G-I-Joe. 

In a blog post for Thanksgiving, I have to give thanks for everything I learned in that land. I know enough to know that clichéd trope #1 (as explained by post-colonial theory) happens when; “white people credit exoticized or native areas for self-discovery.” Yes, that I what I'm doing here. And still, anything less would be vulgar.  

I am so thankful that I lived where I did, because my particular patina of angst still remains. I never felt like part of the place there. I rarely feel like part of a place, no matter where I’ve been. Franz Fanon, Andurhati Roy and Ward Churchill explain this in ways I find more accurate. 

Only as an adult do I have the awareness to understand that I wasn’t the only one that felt that way. That so many still do. Teenage hormones aren’t the cause. Nothing about being human is simple. 

I’m thankful for what I learned because of the land I lived on. I’m grateful to be less stupid. Thank you to everyone (my parents included) that put up with me as a teenager. Now let’s all hold our chins up, set the gloves down, and go read some Mary Brave Bird.

Happy Thanksgiving.

The Top 5 Books I’m thinking about this week:
5. Sherman Alexie’s Indian Killer
4. Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony
3. Gerald Vizenor’s Bearheart
2. Leanne Howe’s Shell Shaker
1. Gordon Henry’s  The Light People

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Dirty Jokes

Soon I’m heading off to the American Humor Studies Association conference. Hello New Orleans, I will eat my way through you like a mouse in a baguette! I’m presenting a paper on Stand-up Comedy post- 9/11. (I promise that one of these days I will devote a blog post specifically to what I actually do.)

We all know what dirty jokes are. They are the ones that you don’t; tell your mother (hi Mom!), or post on social media where your supervisor might see them (good evening Professor Wilder, and anyone that will make future decisions about my professional life!).

Like this one:

                Want to hear a dirty joke?

                                John fell in the dirt.

                Want to hear a clean joke?

                                John took a bath with bubbles.

                Want to hear a dirty joke?

                                Bubbles is a hooker.

The overarching theory of comedy for at least a century is the asymmetry theory. From Joseph Boskin’s book, this states that humor results from the resolution of two asymmetrical meanings.

 In the case above, asymmetries are between; dirt-as-in-soiled and dirt-as-in-illicit, bubbles-as-soapy-things and bubbles-as-a-sex-worker, innocence and NSFW-content. We could go on.

In The Humor Code, the authors explain another emerging theory of humor—a theory of benign violation. This explains that humor happens when transgressions are made safe. They use the example of Sarah Silverman being able to get away with incest jokes because she’s just so darn cute. This is also how bigots often justify hate-speak. They say, “Oh lighten up, it’s just a joke!”

In the dirty Bubbles joke, the transgression is in being with a hooker, and it’s made acceptable by the context of an innocent bubble bath. Another transgression is that the jokes moves back and forth between “appropriate” and “inappropriate” rhetoric.

Consider the next example:

                What do you call a chicken that crossed the road, rolled in dirt, and came back?

                                A dirty, double-crosser.

Sure, it’s a groaner. But it also shows that the theory of acceptable-transgressions need not only apply to transgressive—or dirty—jokes. The chicken joke works because it transgresses from the standard form of “why did the chicken cross the road?” jokes. It’s made acceptable through the logic of puns.

And for a final joke:

                Why was the compost upset?

                                Everyone treated her like dirt!

It is transgressive to anthropomorphize compost. To treat a person-like thing “like dirt” relies on the idiom of “treating someone like dirt” equaling “treat someone poorly.” It’s made acceptable because compost doesn’t really have feelings (even if a previous post might suggest otherwise:

As both a humor of soil geek, this is funny to me, because we would NEVER treat compost the way we would treat dirt! Compost is special, and it keeps dirt happy and healthy! We love you compost, we would never treat you that way…..

The joke makes me sad, too.  I envision a pile of compost with big Miss Piggy fake-eyelashes and big, crocodile tears. Our culture does treat dirt like dirt. We hardly know what compost is! We overuse and abuse dirt. We dump crap in it that will never ever decompose or go away. 

I wonder, how does the form of transgressive humor help us think through our own transgressive behaviors? Is the idea of making-transgression-acceptable right for a culture that is largely okay with ecological transgressions? I have no good answer. Maybe I’ll learn it all in New Orleans.

In the meantime, this is one of the comedians I’ll be discussing at the conference:
Maz Jabroni:


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Dormant Dirt

              “Suspend your fear of dirt and all those things we can’t see without our eyes a minute”

                                                                        Maria Rodale, Organic Manifesto

Long ago, and in a place very far from here, there lived a young couple. They were both tremendously poor, and they—or rather, one of them was pregnant. She had cravings, as pregnant women reportedly do. But not cravings of pickles and ice cream.

With the hunger of a thousand mouths, she craved radishes. The only place that was on the bus line, open at that time, and sure to have radishes, was Whole Foods. And their radishes were too expensive.  

“You know,” she spat, “you sound just like one of those entitled d-bags that would rather save for an xbox than buy real food. Just like Maria Rodale writes in The Organic Manifesto, ‘Sometimes I think the people who complain about Whole Foods don’t remember what it was life before Whole Foods’!!!! That’s on page 129, you poor fool.”

So, out he went for organic, local, non GMO, hormone-free, grass fed, free range, happy radishes. He ruminates about the economy, his inability to provide properly, the state of agriculture in America, and other sad things.

He finds himself at his favorite spot to have a wander and a think--the community garden in the good part of town. They don’t have a membership, they think they could not afford it. His armchair-Marxism stirs inside his red red blood. Community Gardens for the Community!

Guided by the light of his refurbished iphone, he weaves through the carefully tended allotments. He crunches through kale and kohlrabi, and clomps through cabbage and collards. At last! A patch of pert, green, prickly pony tails spilled from tiny pink scalps.

Gritty and chilled, he wanders home with full arms. All aglow, his wife alternates between crunching on the red gems and kissing his frozen fingers. They lay in bed happy and tingly from the bounty.

They feast on radish greens with gas station bacon and syrupy balsamic, mini-radish latkes, mayo-slathered radishes, tuna-radish salad, radish puree on cornmeal mush, radish greens gratin, and boxed wine poached radishes. This last one is horrid, but she loves the taste without the threat of alcohol.

It is a radish wonderland. Well, until it is not. One night in the midst of his gleaning, a bony hand digs into the scruff of his neck and grinds his face into the mud. Through dirty, broken teeth, he appeals to logos, pathos and ethos. He explains himself to yellowed eyes shining angry in the dark.

We know how the story ends. The master of the bony hand and angry eyes promised the poor man all the radishes he wanted for the duration of the pregnancy—with the caveat that one day She would come to him with a demand that he would not refuse.

The child is born, and named “Rapunzel,” a take on the Latin, “Raphanus sativus,” aka radish. We know she is taken, kept in a tower, something about Stevie Nicks-long hair, and a chivalric rescue. None of that is the point.

The moral of the story comes at the beginning. Be careful about your commitments. Once you start something, it must be finished. Remember that which has gone dormant. Remember this as we head into winter.

It’s a story I think about as I pull radishes from my front porch pots, and as I shirk my weekly blog commitment. Writers know the feel of bony hands on our scruff. We know the feeling of mud in our mouths. Forgive us our lapses and, for good or bad, in the presence of dormant things.


For more on the origins of the Rapunzel story:

The Organic Manifesto: