Sneaking back into the room.

Ok, I will skip the apologies for forever not updating. Things are busy, but not busy enough to warrant lack of updates.

Things are moving!

Brooklyn Update: My small cottage industry for preserves is has not financed a return trip yet, but I am convinced I am on my way.

National Update:
I attended the National Storytelling festival at the beginning of October where I met a lot of people and was able to get some feedback on my project from people more local to the region (the festival is in Jonesbrough, TN). In particular I had a conversation with one woman who was very excitable, and with Eric Wolf, host of "The Art of Storytelling" podcast, which has been my piecemeal apprenticeship up to this point. What a lovely man! In our short conversation, I was encouraged as well as challenged. He invited me to an eco-tellers conference in April. Really, what a boon; now I have a deadline.

I have been making my way though my "leads list", though not as quickly as I would like. And am hoping for a trip before Christmas. Though, more likely, after New Years. Holidays are busy at the church, and I am not sure that I can really put my coworkers through that. It might necessitate learning some phone recording techniques.

I have yet to launch the local ex-pat call to arms, but I like to say it's because I am waiting on my website to be finished. Like to say, but probably just another excuse.


Just Peachy

I have been sweating buckets in my kitchen the past three days. Between my broken refrigerator and the 86 degree air temp (seriously, I measured it) I have been racing against time to claim those 17 lbs of peaches for the good cause of canning and not rotting.

But, in the heat of it all (yes! pun!) I came up with a new idea, too! I have been try to figure out how to finance future trips back to West Virginia (which will definitely be happening). SO, here what I came up with. Every time I go, I can pick up a ton of fresh produce and then the week after that, can it all and sell that, throwing the profits back into the WV piggy bank. Certain expenses like buying a car might not get paid for in preserves, but gas money, meal money, etc. could certainly get partially covered.

Additionally, I can design the "packaging" to explain why I am selling it in the first place, and explain more about MTR. Wham! Two birds, one stone.

So as of now, I am open for business, specializing in small batch canning from local farmers, my own garden, and stands and you-pick-it farms in the areas I am traveling to. If you have a request for a particular type of jam, preserve, marmalade, juice, etc. file it into comments, but if I make it you DO have to buy at least two jars.

Current inventory is as follows. All half pint jars. $7-9 (anyone want to refresh me on Paypal?)
3 Peach Butter Sauce
3 Spiced Peach Butter Sauce
4 Peach Jam (no sugar added)
1 Peach Cashew Jam (no sugar added)

I am hoping to get to the cherry tomatoes in my garden this weekend as well as put up some rhubarb from the market before we are totally and completely past rhubarb season.

A note on the actual story telling front. I am starting to make my way through a list of names from all over the state. Rebekah over and Christians for the Mountains was especially helpful in that. I am also tossing around an idea about the WV ex-pats peppering the country.

More to come. Buy Jam.


finally, some movement.

Check out my new project over at Seeking the Hollows.

17 pounds heavier upon return

So I made it back!  I am not in a ditch or some where off the side of a mountain.

I got to a certain point in my trip where it was time to focus on a lot of other things, and the travel-blog sort of took a back seat.  But, now I am back and going through a lot of processing of what I saw, and heard, and learned already even.  I am not ready to articulate it yet, you'll just have to keep checking back.

At the end of the day (week?), it was an amazing trip.  God is good, and He is very faithful.

I am doing another type of processing as well.  I bought 17 pounds of peaches at one of those pick your own farms on my way back since I had the truck.  Tonight was my first adventure into canning, and it smelled delicious at least.  Peach butter, and then a spiced peach butter, and then a bit of an experiment with spiced basil peach butter.  I am thinking about keeping this up and using the funds to off set future trips.  Let me know if you want to buy a jar!


Zip: 25812; Coal: 72.8%

Well, I am out of energy.  Even though I slept 12 hours yesterday, tent sleeping on a slope is not the most refreshing.  I was seriously out before the sun was gone last night.  
So let me give a bit of a summary post tonight:

Notable anecdotes, no online spoilers, you'll have to ask in person: 
-60's Roadside Attraction Military-style Coup
-Jack Spratt & His Wife, and the Grandkids, and Fifi & Bruiser, and the Jones'
-Grafton Supply and Demand

Miles travelled:  approx. 843  (averaging 18 mpg, which is 3 more than expected, Score!)
Money spent:  Let's skip this one until I look at my bank statements...
Gifts acquired on the tertiary goal of trip, antiquing: 3
New hobby furthered by trip: canning

Tonight I am crashing with the cool kids at Christians for the Mountains at ground zero (or one of many ground zeros) for MTR, in Ansted, WV.   They have already been super helpful in the 2 hours I have been here. 

Right.  Time to crash.


Truth: We can't all be bodybuilder Grannys.

Yesterday, I was praying while driving and, I began with, "God, what the hell am I doing?  What is it that I am looking for out here?"  I feel so distracted, when there are all these things I should be doing for this project.  I should be talking to anyone I can about their opinion on and relationship to coal.  Instead my attentions are stolen by daydreaming and judgement.  That led me to my common recited prayer of "God fix A, B, & C that are drawing my focus away from the vision you have given me."  I was racked with guilt about my inability to concentrate on what I thought should me my primary focus.

Then God threw the brakes on.  The message He gave me yesterday was very plain: "Quit fussing."  It was a hard one to hear for me.  A friend in college told me "Jenn, guilt is from the Devil, conviction is from God."  I will take it a step further and say, "Conviction is from God, guilt is from separation from God."  I was definitely feeling guilty, not convicted.  For the sake of you guys who suffer the same self-demand, let me lay it out.

"Quit fussing."   What if I am not broken as I think, or in the way I think?  God made mankind in His image.  All of me.  Those root parts of my being, beyond the superficial layers, the things I really know about myself, they are in one way or another a reflection of God.  Some of my traits might not look like a reflection of God after sin comes into the picture, but the foundation just might look a little like the Lord.  

Anger is not condemned in the Bible, it is just restricted to righteous anger against injustice and defamation of the Lord.  God sees and loves where the stubborn comes from.  He loves and knows the character traits that have resulted in my over-obsession with details.  I am not saying that our human developments on all these things are right or good, but "in the beginning" it was.  

Asking God to "cure" my stubbornness restricts his room to move.   It's like those stories of Granny's lifting cars off little kids; we wouldn't be so amazed if we knew all the Granny's were bodybuilders.  Paul gives this account in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, 

"To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."  

In our weakness He is strong.  Not, how I have always read it, "in our weakness He will make us better to show His strength."  Just as God does not promise an easy life, He does not promise to take away our thorns, but promises to use the very things that vex us.  It makes me smile.  One of those exhausted, "okay, fine, you're right again" kind of smiles.

By constantly condemning all the things I think are wrong about me, I have restricted God's room to move.   So much time in prayer is spent praying for my "thorns"  to be removed instead of being drawn closer to God.  But then I remember Julian of Norwich's exertion that our prayers would be best spent simply praising and glorifying God, that the only true petition we need to bring before him is, "God, let your glory be shown."  His promises of clothing us more than the lillies, of never abandoning us, those promises are enough.  When we know them way deep down, as a part of our base understanding of how God works, how our lives work, we don't need to petition God to take care of us.  We already know it and can instead sing praises for the work he is already doing.

Jesus promises to open doors when we knock on them.   He promises, and to say, "Well, it depends if I am at the right door.  And He might not want to open it right now, anyway," is a plain cop out.  You can drive yourself in circles trying to answer these types of questions.  I know; I do.  Instead, I am trying to cling to the truth and promise of Matthew 21:22, "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer."

God promises to be an active presence, and I believe that He already begun, that He is moving and realigning the desires of my heart to match His own.  Without believing it has begun, at least to some extent, I am left confused and scared about when will it start, and maybe He is waiting for me to be ready, and what about making a living?  The truth is, it's not about my timing; my timing sucks.  I will never be readied for God to come begin His work through me.  God's timing is better than ours, and they rarely seem to match up.

Believing God is already active in me means trusting myself more.  I am led more by intuition than anything else.  And you know what?  I think that that's probably okay.

Blogged from Java Joint, Charles Town, WV-  Zip: 25414; Coal: 72.8%


Zip: 25425; Coal: 72.8%

Well, yesterday was my birthday, and today was the first day of the rest of my life.   Maybe not nearly as dramatic as that.  After driving off and on for 12 hours, it's a slow start, but a good one.

The quick update for the night follows; more tomorrow morning, I promise.

Middlesex, PA for lunch where I tried scrapple for the first time.  I debated if I wanted salty or sweet, and went with french toast on the waitress's (Tamra's) suggestion.  The scrapple was so salty, which might be normal, that it took care of any savory cravings that I might have been looking to satisfy.  Grossly salty, Dan, just gross.  Papa, you might like it, though.

Driving south west after that I saw a sign for Home Depot, where I picked up a few loose ends. 

Gettysburg Apples

Pulling out to hit the highway again, I saw a sign for Gettysburg in the other direction.
Momma had suggested I go, and frankly, I have the time so left it was instead of right.  Two antique markets later, Gettysburg is 6000 acres of "intense" combined with tourist.  Some of the memorial statues were "refreshingly honest"

Gettysburg, 3rd day battlefield



Good to know.

Foiled by the Chicago short "a" again. My apologies.
It's not Apple-aye-chia; It's Appa-latcha.

...I think.


My name is Jenn, and I am a romantic.

I know most of my weaknesses. Okay, many of them. (And this is not the invitation to point out what you always thought was wrong about me.) We all have weaknesses, it's just a matter of what we choose to do with them.

My penchant for the romantic, the 18th century "sublime/romanticism" type, not the Danielle Steele type, can sometimes be like blinders. Wholehearted sentimentality is a burden when you sincerely embrace it as part of who you are. I am guilty of founded and unfounded nostalgia alike. And I am a flea market bum. I know all these things, and have thus far not made moves to change them. They are weaknesses to be sure, but are deeply rooted in my values and not likely to change before August first.

Because I recognize this, I am taking active steps to try and neutralize any romantic ideas that have built up over time in me about Appalachia and the people there, primarily created, and now fought, through reading. I want to be fair and have as few expectations as I can. I know I am highly influenced by what I read (another weakness), and have tried to be careful in my reading selection. But last weekend I ran into a complication. I read a academic paper written by two professors, Ronald Lewis and Dwight D. Billings, called "Appalachian Culture and Economic Development". In their argument about cultural perception, they condemn just about every type of literary/poetic expression depicting Appalachia, save Frederick Law Olmsted's edition on the region entitled "A Journey in the Back Country", in which the only distinction he recognizes between the Deep South and Appalachian people is the mountains they live in. "They were just poor people" where ever they were.

Lewis and Billings say most popular portrayals are based on the "myth of Appalachia". The Myth is made of everything that goes into the general stereotype of Appalachian people. You know it, straight out of Deliverance: illiterate, no shoes, less teeth than shoes, drunk, prone to depression. The Myth goes all the way back to the "first" American folk song, "New England's Annoyances". The "Annoyances" is my favorite example used in the report; allow me expansion. Dated circa 1630 the "poem is a self-depreciation of New England's farmers poking fun at Englishmen who regarded the colonists as 'rustic hicks' who lived disheveled lives of grinding poverty". The anti-RedCoat song explains clothing for instance:
"And now do out Garments begin to grow thin.
An Wool is much wanted to card and to spin;
If we can get a Garment to cover without,
Our other In-Garments are Clout upon Clout;
Out Clothes we brought with us are apt to be torn,
They need to be clouted soon after their worn;
But clouting our Garments they hinder us nothing;
Clouts double are warmer than single whole Clothing."
Now for the life of me I cannot understand how that was written as a self-depreciation against someone else, but the point is taken that being known from wearing underclothes that are "Clout upon Clout" (a clout is a patch) is not the ideal way to start for characterization as a region. But if Lewis and Billings are right, then there is nearly nothing "creative" for me to read about the region that will give me an idea of what I am making my way toward.

What a bummer!

I don't even mean creative as in "a creative look at things", but as in, not academic, not scientific; I would settle for "approved" journal entries!

I am not so naive as to think a stroll through the Cumberland Gap is going to lead me to Jodie Foster pushing daises in the eyeballs holes of her dead mother's skull; I am pretty sure she is still alive anyway. I don't know I would have the guts to drink real moonshine if I came across it for fear of lead and adelhyde poisoning. I am right there on board with one pastor from the region when he shares, "A woman from Georgia working with Coeburn on mission projects informed us that some folks in her church would not participate in mission work in Coeburn because "they are a bunch of crackheads." Now we are barefoot, poor, uneductated crackheads who all handle snakes in church. What a picture!"

The stereotypes are outrageous and my whole self-reeducation is about breaking them down, but I do believe in regional distinctions. Anyone who has traveled outside of one area can recognize that the people in Seattle are very different from the people in Georgia. I was raised in the "melting-pot school system mentality" and, sure, we are all much more similar that we are different, but ignoring the differences does a separate sort of harm. More is lost than gained when we loose regional variances and assume homogeny. At the other extreme, yes, everyone is an individual, but very few cases of absolute separatism exist. If they did, we would never know anyway. In this case, both attitudes have their place. Individual people belong to collective groups, no matter how blurred lines get and overlap. I will give that not all, or even probably most portrayals of Appalachia are accurate, but I will not give up on a distinct regional character. Not in one particular person, but in the accurate characterization of a culture and its subcultures.

So, what's a girl to do? I am taking Lewis and Billings for the economic and historiographical analyses, but their literary critiques with a grain of salt and fighting one weakness (vulnerability in reading) in favor of another (preservation of romanticism). Not all weaknesses are bad. Not all vulnerabilities are bad. Sometimes growing we grow passed them. Sometimes they lead us to great adventures.

I'm not looking for "almost heaven" or life "older than the trees", but I would settle for a "mountain momma" or "miner's lady".


Me vs. Them does not equal We.

Last Sunday I attended one of the roof-top feast extravaganzas my friends over and Bushwick Department of Public Works throw. While there I met 0H10M1KE, or "OhioMike", an artist who spent some time doing social work with AmeriCorps in southeast Ohio. We started talking about this project and as I expressed my desire to avoid being seen as a voyeur or missionary, he cut me off and said "But thats exactly what you are! And the sooner you accept it, the better for you and them." Harsh words. But, I think they are probably true.

Many people who know the Appalachian culture (and some who don't, but know hollywood) have warned me that the people are insular and no one will trust me, and "Ha, good luck with that". I admit that, yes, the Appalachian people are wary of "outsiders". They are proud, independent, and determined for preservation. And, looking at the history of the region, the ongoing failure of governmental programs, and the exploitation by many big business (energy) corporations, who can really blame them? Even in that characterization are a million and one unfair assumptions. I know this makes the job of anyone coming from the outside harder, but those traits are precisely what I am attracted to and see also in myself. Determination, even stubbornness. (When I am complaining in 3-4 months, feel free to refer me back to my own profession here.)

Merriam-Webster defines a voyeur as "a prying observer who is usually seeking the sordid or the scandalous". I admit my project walks the line of that. It would be easy to roll into a town like Ansted and paint a picture of good vs. bad. Small town against big uncaring coal. But I believe stopping to say, "Wait, I just want to listen to you" instead of, "Here's what we can accomplish this week..." will lead to something different, unplannable and better. I am more interested in accurate characterization of who is fighting, than the resolution of the MTR conflict. I care, but more about the people and what they are feeling. Nothing is going to change anyway if everyone is just pissed off at each other.

The whole thing has gotten me thinking about the nature of this project, and "working for change". I want to accomplish something. But the more definition I give that something, the further I am from it. By leaving the goal open, whatever comes my way becomes acceptable and valuable, and the experiences I have are reason enough for a seven-day road trip. In a lot of ways it's really selfish, to be sure. But I am making my peace. If you know me even moderately well, you know what I do is DO. I have a project-based personality, and when I set myself to get something done, I get it done, and do it well. It's work ethic. Having a concrete goal for the trip is attractive to me. Then, at the end I can look at what I did and see that I succeed or failed. I have a set of recordings or I don't. But, sometimes I get so dug in, I don't leave room to listen if God is even there. Taking this week in Appalachia will be a different sort of challenge. Pursuing a general notion or gut feeling that I am supposed to travel and JUST listen, is very scary for me. But I am getting closer.

I am excited to just get out of the city. I want to see new terrain and experience new things. I love to drive. I love to drive pickup trucks. I want to DO a lot on this trip. Meet a few people, record stories, fight injustice, save the world. But, instead, for this one week, I am going to try and intentionally not do anything leading to anything bigger. I want to see stuff, smoke a cigar, ride a horse, forget Manhattan, swim. If nothing else, it's a refueling. At the end I can say, I am still exhausted, or I am not. And, you know, I think I am okay with that.

This is big for me because I am, by nature, a Martha. I'm going to try and be a Mary.

The story of Martha and Mary is one of those I never fail to walk away from convicted. Jesus and his buddies are going along and stop at this village where these two sisters live who say they will host the guys for dinner. Martha is the one who actually invites them and then gets to the cleaning, cooking, and everything else that goes into being a good hostess. While she's busting her butt, sweating for sure, her sister Mary is sitting on the ground listening to Jesus talk. Every time I hear this story imagine Mary with her head tilted to the side and her eyes really wide and shiny, a little like a puppy. I guess that betrays who I relate to.
So Martha takes Jesus aside and said, "Lord, I'm the one doing all the work and that bum is just sitting there! She'll listen to you; tell her to get up off her kiester and help!"
Instead, Jesus sees right through it and says, "Martha, chill out for a second. You are clearly upset and worried about a lot, but you really just need one thing. To sit down and be with me! Mary is right on this one, I'd rather hang out and eat hot dogs and cold baked beans than get the filet minion and not see you."

Mary had a mission. But it became HER mission. She was no longer motivated by serving the Lord, but serving her mission. Goals are not a bad thing by any means. But, though the guidance counselors out there hate to hear me say it, from a Christian perspective, I think short term goals can become distracting from the greater mission: to praise God and glorify his Holy Name. At least for me, I become so focused on getting something done and doing it with excellence, that I forget the entire reason that I am doing it for the first place. For example, I have been working all these late hours working on the website for the church I work at. Web design and html are not things I am inclined to, skilled at, or enjoy, but I have been so adamant about doing this efficiently and skillfully that I have been working myself into a stressed-out bomb, ready to be triggered by just about anything that bumps into me. It wasn't until yesterday when I hit a wall, and hard, that I came back to reality and remembered that the commandments don't say "thou shall meet thy deadline" and Jesus didn't say "Blessed are the efficient." It was more important for me to go out for $2 margarita happy hour at Brother Jimmy's BBQ and be with my brother and sister in Christ, than log three more hours on a behemoth of a project. Jesus says, "Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." Being with Jesus is more important than hospitality, websites, and even evangelism. It is out time with Jesus that prepares us and motivates for these things. Any other order inevitably just makes you a pissed-off-Martha.

OhioMike was right. I am an outsider. There is no way that will ever change. He told me of someone that moved to the small town he was working out of when he was 4 years old. That man had remarked that he was still treated like an outsider even after all the years, into midlife. It would be both pretentious and unrealistic to think that I am going to be accepted as an honorary member into the circle in one week, and as hard as I work, I probably never will be. The truth is, I will undoubtedly gain more than I will give. Despite how deeply anchored this trip is in my faith, my belief that we are charged with the care of the earth and each other, my desire to give something back, I have not been looking at this as a missions trip. If it was, I would obviously have a color-coordinated t-shirt, and more of a plan than an approximate driving itinerary putting me in a new town just about every night. I have serious reservations about the benefits of short term missions, but the strongest argument in favor is the selfish one. Sometimes the "missionary" becomes the one who is changed. A short term mission can open someone's eyes and mind, maybe even propelling them forward to greater action. The value of a mission can't be measured by what is accomplished in one week, but can only be revealed by a long view of the situation.

I have peace with this being a foundation for something more. I think that I am so relaxed about goals for this particular trip because in my mind and heart I am already committed to a long term experience. I don't know what my relationship to the environmental community will be in a year or ten, but I know I don't have to get everythinig done right now.

As hard as it was to initially hear, Mike did say, "the sooner you accept it, the better for you and them". Me and Them. Whoever "them" is, I do have the ability to be a human in relationships, not just an intrusive robotic force coming to take over the earth and, you know, do stuff. I am so ready to get-my-Mary-on.


All things start, Once Upon A Time...

"Once upon a time there was a girl. She lived in Brooklyn, and worked in Manhattan, but was not satisfied.

She was happiest sitting in her rocking chair on her apartment's stoop, pretending it was a front porch, her over-grown cherry tomato plants and untrimmed hedges, a deep wood. But it wasn't enough..."

That's the simplified version I suppose.
I am in the final stages of planning a trip to Appalachia with the soul purpose of meeting people and listening to them. Particularly about coal mining. For a lot of people in my life, this has seemed to come out of no where, and in some ways it has. It has only been a few months since I decided to take on this project, but as my mentor asked, "Jenn, how do you think God works?" As sudden and compulsive as this all seems (and feels), environmental issues and the role the arts can play has long been on my heart.

I was trained in undergrad as a visual artist and moved to Brooklyn in 2007 to avoid and trick myself out of going to grad school right away. I pursued art since, but over the past 6-8 months came to the realization that I am not interested in making sculpture a career. I entered into a period of exploring alternate ways of doing what I was trying to accomplish with my art, seeking a better fit.

Storytelling emerged from a hobby to a more serious pursuit. I have thrown myself into both telling and listening, assembling as much a piecemeal apprenticeship as I can. Part of my observations has been teaching others to tell their own stories. I have a passion for advocacy, and even more so for supporting self-advocacy. There is no stronger argument than your own story. The arguments of ethos (ethics) and logos (logic) are often very simply put, so as to be more concrete, but to argue pathos (emotion) is messy and complicated, and powerful.

I came to this realization, listening to a story about mountain turkeys. Elizabeth Ellis was the catalyst that brought together the disparate parts of the last 6 years of my life.

During my undergraduate studies in Chicago I became involved in environmental actions. At a conservative Christian campus, along with a writer, musician, and filmmaker (the science department noticeably disinterested), we founded the first environmental group in the college's history, the Creation Care Coalition, or C3. I particularly embraced an Evangelical Christian environmental group called Restoring Eden. The slogan "God's original plan was to live in a garden with naked vegetarians" and the director's assertion that "God made our middle finger longest for a reason" appealed to my senses smothered by the college.

At the time, we were focusing on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I joined them to lobby in DC during Spring of 2005. What our group brought the the table that others didn't was an amazing man called The Reverend Trimble Gilbert. He was a respected musician, Episcopal priest, elder of the Gwich'in people who live in the refuge, and one hell of a storyteller. He told about the centuries old dependence of his people on the caribou who future was in question. He taught us to know what it was like to wake up to the sound of a 400lb bull outside your window. Rev. Gilbert's stories taught me that the link between environmental and human injustice is one of the most powerful arguments against environmental destruction. Plus, he was just an amazing storyteller.

The issue of coal mining, mountain top removal specifically, has always moved me as one of the most complicated issues in our country's history. Mountain Top Removal, as opposed to traditional shaft-based mining, is also called surface mining. Explosives are used to blast away layers of earth and rock to small, rich coal deposits. 16 tons of "terrain displacement" yeilds an average of 1 ton of coal. Read more in this article by Smithsonian Magazine.

Certainly mining has shaped the Appalachian region's personality nearly as much as it threatens it. Wendell Berry says in his essay "Harry Caudill in the Cumberlands", "The region is, after all, part of a 'national sacrafice area,' and has been so considered and so treated by governments and corporations for well over half a century... [Caudill's stories] show the influence of cultural inheritance, topography, geography, poor farming, and the oppressions of coal." The best expression of a region's history is it's stories. It's where all the science, stats, pictures, and documents are digested into something human and tangible. A person sitting across from you, telling you what they know and how they feel.

It is hard to look someone in the eye and tell them that they don't, in fact, feel a professed something. You can tell them they don't have a right to feel it, or it comes from the wrong motivations, or they don't understand (not that you're necessarily right either way), but it is very difficult to, for example, look at a crying child and tell them, "You're not upset." A little boy might cry over a little spilled milk, but he doesn't recover by realizing he's not really upset, he does so by getting past it.

So what the heck am I doing?
My intention is to travel and absorb, mostly listening and recording other people's stories to try and gain a better understand of what Appalachia currently looks like. I have a few people along that way that I know will speak to me about coal mining specifically, from both sides of the conflict, but I am mostly just planning on stopping frequently and hoping God brings the people I should talk to into my life. I don't presume to understand the complexity of the fight, and know what I am doing looks a bit idealistic, but am grounded by the belief that people's stories are their truths and there is no amount of editing that can censor that.

I want to attempt this not as a voyeur, but as a partner. I am trying to not bring a bias. There is a significant amount of trust involved in recording someone's story, and I am very wary of being perceived as a tourist, missionary type of figure. One of the biggest difficulties lies in the fact that often the people with the most powerful stories don't want to tell them, and those who do jump to attention may have their own motivations. I think the only way to get past this is to be totally transparent.

If you know of people I can stop and talk with or stay with in the region, please let me know. I have been blessed to be lent a car by a family in my parish, and have a flexible itinerary.
Prayers for artistic guidance and financial means are much appreciated if you are the type.

So, once upon a time there was a girl. She liked to wear her hair in pigtail braids but needed someone else to braid them for her. And she started to stir. And she headed west for a bit.


Manifesto for Dying

Manifesto: When I am old I will be completely different than I am right now.

I will be large and shaped like a soft toad.
I will have deep wrinkles all over my body, even on my breasts.
I have learned recently to wear bright lipstick and will sleep in purple silk pajamas that cut a scandalous "V" to reveal the top of my large shelf.
I will be loud and pious and pray earnestly for my grandchildren and the harvest.
Loudly and piously, and then I will drink a cold beer.
I will eat fish on Fridays, pie on Tuesdays, and cookies on Thursdays, and Saturdays, and Sundays.
I will live alone, because I am a widow, in a house smelling of lavender and mothballs and mildew with raccoons for my neighbors.
And I will like it, because I have chosen it.
And I will be called Irene.

And when I am old, I will be quiet.
I will bake and cook until they take the knobs off of the stove.
I will wash the dishes gladly, and be confused and hurt when they rewash them.
I will try to read the newspaper.
I will cry for the Pope's funeral on the TV and think it is my husband's.
I will finally loose weight,
and then more,
and more.
I will not remember my daughters, but I will have loved them.
I will die alone, though I was always afraid to.
And when I am old they will tell me I am called Florence.

And when I am old I will be a patriarch.
I will drink too much.
I will be hard and will have hurt people
but I will have loved more than most.
I will have many sons and be proud to know the surrogacy was mutual.
I will take dimensions, and build.
Oh, will I build.
Boxes and trucks and tables
and airplanes and bikes and sausagemakers
and bars
and homes
and bars in homes, and homes in bars.
I will hurt and bleed and I will still dance.
I will get many types of cancer.
I will not go until they tell me to.
And I will be named Teddy.

And when I am old I will be afraid of water.
I will only take pictures in which I look pitiable or mean.
I will not leave a legacy, except a few fists that snuck out
and tears that defiantly sprung forth when I feared for my son.
I suppose I will be called Peter.

But I am young.
I am not these people.
I hate the color purple and the idea of the Pope.
I am not yet an alcoholic.
I hope to leave a legacy.
Now I am young, and called Jennifer.


Falling- A Mother's Day Post

By the time I was three, my grandparents wanted to buy me a helmet. Not for riding my bike, or any other normal kid thing, but for walking around the house. I was such a reckless, fearless child that it's a wonder I didn't break a bone until I was seventeen, well, at least not my own. My grandparents almost had my dad convinced, if not for my mom, their daughter, who single handedly saved me from the later embarrassment of non-required-protective-headgear.

I think it was her earliest effort in passing on the value of risk-taking that had been all-but-squashed in her own youth. My mom was the third of six siblings growing up on the south side of Chicago. She had only one brother, who was two years older than her. As was usually the case in situations from that time, he got all the benefits because he was the boy, and the sisters were left to be more creative in their achievements. My mother always made good grades, and combined with a loyal work history to a local drugstore chain, was awarded a full-ride scholarship in 1968 to study pharmacy at a state college. Upon hearing, my grandfather told her to give back the scholarship so a boy could have it. When she refused, he disowned her, and kicked her out of the house, and she went off to Western Illinois University in rural Macomb.

It was here, that she really learned to fall. My mother fell in and out of love. She fell out of her pharmacology program in favor of English Education. But most of all, she learned to fall, in the breech position, out of an airplane.

Shortly after taking up skydiving, packing the shoots of other jumpers so she could go for free, my grandmother finally convinced my grandfather to visit the school, just to see what their lost daughter was up to. It was a surprise visit, so when my mom's roommate directed them to the airfield, and they found my mom about to go up, she was totally unprepared to explain her risk-taking. Not wanting to delay the flight schedule, with my grandmother in tears and hysterics, my mom jumped in the plane, went up, came down, and was back on the ground in half an hour. Her mom was horrified, but my grandfather just laughed. He wouldn't admit it until about twenty years later, but I think that's when he knew he was wrong. Grounded by bad eyes, he had always wanted to fly.

My mom's skydiving came to an end on her forty-second jump. She was with a group jump, and they all got caught in an updraft. Everyone went in one direction and she was blown the other. She crash-landed in a bean field, shattering both of her knees. The ground crew went looking in the direction everyone else had gone, all uninjured, and my mother army-crawled on her elbows for an hour to a near by runway where she was almost run over my an ambulance that then backed up and picked her up.

Even in the hospital, with her my grandmother in tears again, begging her to come home, my mom asserted her independence again chose to chance it on her own with two full hip to ankle casts.

She fell, and was indeed worse for the wear. But refusing to miss out on her life a few weeks later, my mother, on crutches, with a jug of wine in a backpack, made her way to a party. There she met a recreational body builder with degrees in kinesthetics and coaching, into whose care her doctor eventually released her for physical therapy. And whom she eventually married and had two violently, reckless daughters with.

I am sure it wasn't always easy watching me stumble around the house, hitting my head, and arms, and knees on everything. Especially when I took to wrapping my blankie around my head over my eyes to prove how well I knew the house. 5, 6, 7 stairs, crash, ok, so it was 8.

When my sister and I took up horse jumping, she sat in the stands every week wringing her hands, but still cheering. Once my sister took a particularly bad fall at a show that happened to be on Mother's Day. She split open her side, duct taped it shut, and went on to win the only trophy of her riding career. She doesn’t say so, but I think it is one of my mom’s favorite Mother’s Day memories.

She clearly knew there was some lesson in falling.

Part of jumping is the falling, sometimes it’s the best part, the entire reason you jump in the first place. You give yourself to the wind just to see what happens and where it will take you. And sometimes, you even land on your feet.

thanks mummsy


thigmophillic- (adj.) touch-loving, relying on touch to navigate an environment

I worked this up for a Moth Story Slam, so imagine I am telling this story to you in person, not that you're reading it.

So let me preface this by saying that I am not a religious fanatic. My politics are independent if not dispassionate. I probably drink more excessively than most college frat boys. That said, I am a Christian, and when I am not busy being an artist, I even work for a church. Which happens to amount to enough hours every week to get me medical coverage.

I am pretty even keeled, and despite my admission to excess on occasion, this is the totally sober story of the afternoon I was unknowingly given LSD, or rat poison, or had a supremely radical religious experience. Or maybe some combination of the above.

Let me set the scene. I had been under a lot of stress. Easter in the Church is a great celebration, but it is proceed by 6 weeks of solemn contemplation, and when you are in charge of disseminating information to make people solemnly contemplate the necessity of Jesus dying on the cross, because we all suck without him, well, that combined with seasonal depression, might just get a person down.

The past few months I had been feeling pretty dead and unobservant. Totally exhausted and wearied like I was just coasting through the weeks until I could get to spring. Lenten contemplations were not making it better.

So, I was sitting in a West Village coffee shop after work before I headed back uptown to work an evening service. I had eaten a cinnamon raisin bagel, toasted, with cream cheese and a cup of coffee. I was working a second cup and reading Henri Nouwen's The Return of the Prodigal Son on recommendation from one of my bosses.  The book had been amazing thus far. The kind that if you ever want to finish makes you fight the urge to stop every few paragraphs to sit and listen to the stream of consciousness running in your head.

I finally did pause for reflection long enough to note that I had been fingering the handle and rim of my coffee cup for the past ten minutes.   Suddenly, I felt this deep emotional connection with the smooth warmth of the porcelien beneath my fingers.  My heart started being fast. If I could hang onto how that felt in that moment, everything would be ok. The world would realign if I could come to some sort of comprehension of that smooth warmth.

I yanked my hand back, checking myself, totally stunned by the natural power of the mug that I seemed to be channelling, and at the same time chaztizing myself for being totally insane. But, senses and sensibilities arguing, I had to check.

Touching with just the pads of my fingers, to limit whatever it was, I went back to the cup. I started to run the tips of my fingers over the surface of the mug, and began to connect with the depth of the feeling there.

My heart was pounding in my temples and behind my eyes. I've never done acid, but the closest thing I can relate it to was taking adderall in college. I remembered someone telling me LSD and rat poison are checmically similar and wondered if it would have been in the bagel, cream cheese, or coffee. But why would they drug me in the first place? And who was they anyway? It had to be an accident, but how?

Consiracy theories running though my head, I closed my eyes and sunk into it this beautiful feeling, trying to push out all the hodgepodge sounds of the shop. I am certian I had a look of ecstasy on my face, and blush to think what any observer must have assumed I was thinking about.

Then it hit me, what I was feeling and channeling, almost storing up inside me was beauty made tactile. And it was most clearly a gift from God. This realization was so emotional that I found myself swallowing back tears of relief that I wasn't dead to everything good in the world after all.

Here, in a coffee shop, through the warmth of a mug, God was loving me.  Deep into the core of my being I could feel this power radiating through textures.   I felt the paper napkin's dry ridges, and the rough wood of the table.   The greasey surface of my unwashed jeans, but returning to the mug as the most pleasant touch and deepest connection.  

Extremely emotional, embarrassed to be moved to a vulnerable half-manic state moved by a freaking cup of coffee, I got up and left the coffee shop. It was time to start heading back up to work anyway. Once outside in the cold, I sunk my hands into the  pockets of my jeans. But the thin fabric on the inside of them captured me. What an underapprciated and wonderful thin cotton. I started to be overwhelmed by it's delicacy.

I took my hands our of my pockets, resolved to look like an idiot and walk with my fingers spread like they had webs, stiff at my sides, out from my hips to avoid further stimulation.  I probably looked a little like a zombie.

But still, though I was confronted with sounds and visual sights overtaking my mind, I couldn't not think about the cold air blowing between my fingers and on the front of my hands as I walked down the street.   My heart was racing with pure overwhelming appreciation of feeling, and with wonder at what surrounded me.  Never before had the sense of touch meant so much to me.

As causually as I could, I ran my finger tips along a plywood construction wall.  And on the metal gate of a fence.    When there was nothing to touch without being conspicuois, I rubbed my finger tips together feeling like it was nothing I had ever known, totally new and free, and amazing.  Not at all something of my own body that had been with me forever.  The feelings and textures I was drinking in had always been there but they were totally and completely new. God had always made his creation out of small, good, simple things, I had failed to see them as of late.

And then there was the whole fact that I was going crazy and was doing the one thing that even born and raised New Yorker's avoid. Touching as many surfaces as I could.

I knew I must be having some sort of attack.  These things didn't just happen: sudden epiphanies to everyday beauty, and grace, and even truth.  An all-of-a-sudden recognition of the goodness that withstands in creation, even man-made creation. 

Aiming myself towards the uptown 1 train, my eyes caught a used clothing store. I slipped back into the mania, and heart picked up the pace again.
All the fabrics to be felt! I walked, half ran, up and down the asiles running my hands along fabrics, pausing every now and then when something caught my attention.  I would just stand there, caressing a blouse or worn leather cowboyboots as if they were my lovers.  Finally when the woman working there caught me with a puzzled, look and I left the store, regretting not making it to the handbag section.

That one barista did look at me funny and then said something as I walked out in my trance. I had though he was trying to flirt when he brought the second cup of coffee to my table for me. But maybe he was the one who slipped me something. It was an independant vegan coffee shop, it seems expected that someone has access to questionable substances.  
But no, that was actually crazy.  I was just in a total, scary, and wonderful condition brought on by suddenly, all at once, perceiving God's love for me as an individual in everything I could feel. Its that simple. …

I knew the roughness of the bark on that tree was all for me, because no one else cared to touch it or absorb it's power, its beauty. But why was this happening to me? Why wasn’t anyone else paralyzed by this sudden awareness?
Then the humor of it hit me. The passage from Nouwen that I had been concentrating on read, "The choice for gratitude rarely comes without some real effort. But each time I make it, the next choice is a little easier, a little freer, a little less self-conscious. Because every gift I acknowledge reveals another and another, until finally, even the most normal, obvious, and seemingly mundane event or encounter proves to be filled with grace."

This was exactly, literally what I have been praying for for the past few weeks.  "Lord, lift me out of this haze.  I want to see your beauty and love in all that surrounds me."  I hadn't expected the prayer to be answered, so when it was, and quite literally, it scared the shit out of me.

Besides, this couldn’t be drug related or craziness because I was very aware of the fact that I knew I was headed for the subway and had to find something to hold for the ride or I would be rubbing my hands on the poles and doors and who knows what else. And I didn’t have andy Purell. I was aware and present enough that I ripped a small leaf off of a hedge to hold between my index finger and thumb. 

I was able to sit on the subway and close my eyes, just rubbing the leaf between my fingers.  Smooth side, rougher underside, with the vien down the middle. turning it over, and switching hands.  I made it all the way to my stop, and having slowed my heart rate on the ride, emerged from the subway a little less overwhelmed than I had gone down. 

I webbed my fingers again for the walk to the church, and realized that with the cold they had begun to numb. By the time I got to the church I had lost most feeling, and with it, the awareness of the details. Though relieved to not have to feel everything, I was a little disappointed when I thawed and the hypersenstivity didn't come back.

For a few brief hours I could feel something that no one else could. I was special, and so priviliged to be in a place with so much mundane beauty around me.
So whether it was the Lord God Almighty talking to me through a coffee cup or a substance less dangerous talking to me through a coffee cup, it pulled me out of a hole I had been wallowing in. Perhaps it was some combination.

I am not fundamental enough to think the Lord wouldn’t use "altered states" to get to people. There too many stories that I believe about people finding Jesus at rock bottom. I'm not saying Jesus told me to do drugs, but, for the rest of Lent, that is what I will solemnly contemplate, God's sense of amusement in granting my prayers.


Poem for a Springtime Nap

Waiting for you is like waiting for water to turn to wine.
I don't know if it is my own vain-glory or fear,
But I taste-test over and over, lacking the patience and trust in my eyes or heart to witness a change in composition.
I look daily for the miracle of you,
the alchemy I am sure must take place in me and the world before your appearance.
Because I am sure you will be golden like the sun,
which warms my face already.
It is a foreshadowing,
or rather,
a foreshine, that convinces me that you are yet to come.

When it is beautiful out is when I want you most,
and when I lie by myself for an afternoon naps with you caressing my face.
The most joyful moments are those which also remind me that I am alone,
and uncared for except for the Lord, and
a kindred spirit smiling,
somewhere at the same sun.


Gary Indiana is not the edge of the world, It turns out

"Gary Indiana is not the edge of the world, It turns out"

My burgeoning love affair with the ocean was unexpected.
As someone who didn't see salt water until 15,
except sea-salt water in her medicinal foot soak,
as a suburban Chicagoan whose impression of the beach
never saw anything other than a more dangerous swimming pool.
I am afraid of loving the ocean.
The salty, briny smell,
the sand more often wet and cold than warm and glamourous.
The romantic sound of the waves.

I am most afraid of raising my eyes and falling in love with the horizon,
so different than the factories of Gary, Indiana.
because the edge of the world, even in Brooklyn,
is so far from Chicago.


Potentially the first posting of these lyrics ever...

remarkably heartwrenching song that Dan and I figured out the lyrics to [while he talked with pops]

"Manatawny" by Manatawny Creek Ramblers

i live very simply
i know what i need
cigarettes and coffee
good soil and feed
down by the old spots
that's where ill be
just across from
the banks of the Manatawny

i farm corn & the soybeans
I tend to the hay
it goes well in september
I just might get paid
now this morning the sky
opened up with a roar
that creeping river's
outside my front door

I'm begging please...

...Manatawny back down
big river back down
from me these ragin' waters
don't look like no creek
Manatawny back down from me...

got a woman named jenny
she stands by my side
in spite of my temper
in spite of my pride
she works second shift
on the assembly line
says :
long as we got love we're doing just fine

had a home in the country
with snakes it was cursed
had us a baby
never made it past birth
and I promised some day I'll
paint you the town
today I'm just hoping
that river backs down
I'm begging please...


my pills need refilling
my lungs are a mess the doc says,
"ticker needs to lay off the stress"
says "relax boy, take it easy
before you all spent"
well it just ain't an option
when you gotta pay the rent
now I love my country
this I stand behind
what I hates not affording
a doctor for my wife
and if you can hear me
way down in DC
get a piece of my mind
if this river spares me
I'm begging please...

thought we were in for a good year
the end of the drought
its hard not to worry
and I try not to doubt
I guess faith is trustin'
without rhyme or good reason
but Jesus, I'm asking
for once, a good season

down on my knees...

[sexy harmonica]

::the end::


Late Night Thank You Note

So I want to thank you, even though I am not quite sure if the "you" should be the Divine or the pianist.

You took something dismal and redeemed it into one of the most magical things i have witnessed in my entire life.

I had to force myself to go out tonight, and into the city at that. I hate Manhattan at night. Not because of crime or anything like that, but because it is "Manhattan at Night" It is an entity entirely different from myself, that lives on adrenaline, serotonin, and fruity-flavored vodka cocktails. I have very little common ground, and am prejudiced against it anyway from the start.

I like Brooklyn, I love Ditmas. I HATE "manhattan at night", the borough that never sleeps, and never thinks about who it sleeps with or what it says.

I left early, because i have things tomorrow. And I was tired of not wanting to play pool or have another PBR, which is all I can afford, but will not get me anymore buzzed and just make me fatter and tireder. Circumstances foundation enough to give my cross-town-blocks walk in the subfreezing weather without a hat (or bonnet) an air of doom and gloom. And by the time I got to the station, I was fighting myself on why I live in New York when I hate its face so much.

And thats when it happened, the occasion prompting this thank you note. Jolted out of my self-indulgnt why me-isms, full-bodied red-wine notes engulf me. Jumping back and forth from the platforms and hiding in the dark tunnel, but still pi-ah-no enough to be gentle and sweet and real, and still a shy enough sound to know that it is young and has learning to do. The sound from the box gathers information and wisdom as it bounces on the tiles and tracks, and I stop dead. Confronting how I should be allowed to see something so beautiful with such ugliness in my heart.
Suddenly glad that it is not noon. It wouldn't be nearly the same.
And glad that it is not summer. The labor of the player in the cold only adds weight and gravity to the task.
And glad that I am alone on a Saturday night. Not still stuck at a too slick bar taking the money I don't have, meeting the men I don't want.

Because, this? This is magical
and romantic,
and sublime,
and one of the most heart breaking things I have ever seen.

Thank you.

ps: I don't want to take your picture. You seemed like you didn't like me for that thought.


two, and third and coffee stains

Today's poem, and a rediscovered older one:

truly beautiful people
white woman
black man
fuzzy pilled scarf
long well kept dreads
little baby nested in between her breasts
and his almond croissant crumbs
a Parisian/latin/loungy song comes on
they hum, to baby, or each other, or the rest of the coffee shop
alternating parts
as if it was their well rehearsed dance
but if you really look
they are completely unaware they are making music
even less so of their synchronosity

All my clothes are black and coffee stain color,
because I live that way.
I don’t buy white, and
“This is why we can’t have nice things”

and I have a certain pride in that.

Sometimes I think I am scared of the possibility of marriage not because of the commitment or pressure, but because I know there is no way I would get through an entire day wearing white and not spill. Especially being a redwine drinker.


Winter Activities

For Grandma and the other dead:

It seems to me, that death is something sharp at first and then softens in time.
In a tombstone freshly chiseled, harsh and black characters;
and then when more time has passed after the final date, 
longer than the mortality lying within the dash,
when having proved a lasting power longer than its predecessor, 
death becomes the norm, the average state of being,
then the letters and numbers fade;
after countless harsh Wisconsin blizzards and rains.
And eventually, 
with writing and edges so soft and smooth that even the visitors that come to see you, 
who never really knew you, 
want to gently tip over your marker and use it as a pillow 
for their tired heads
and their heavy souls.
Then death is a comfortable pallet we all walk towards,
or slink, or waltz,
the wiser of us knowing that in its lasting power
is truth
and hospitality.