Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Land and Lyric

How does the land give shape to voice? I left some land, but it didn't leave me.

Listen to these songs as you read.

It is by no means representative of the Texas sound particular or peculiar to the Llano Estacado. I wish there were more women. There could be a Tejano or conjunto band or two. Maybe a gospel singer. But this is what I came up with on the fly.

I am a child of maps. I am longitude and latitude. I am dirt and irrigation. I am plow and furrow. I am the chemicals poisoning the bugs and the weeds. I am the compost, the shit in the fertilizer that helps the good things grow. I am a child of the land. And I am the child of one who did not own land enough to keep him from going to war.

The land seeped into my genetics, hitched a ride on my RNA. My dad’s irrigation pickup, outfitted with pipes and socks, from spigots all damp and dripping from the previous day’s irrigation, smelled of salt and rust and roots. It made my nose run and my eyes itch. It caught in my lungs. My dad reminded me daily that the land would kill him like it did his father. 

"Expect the worst so it don't happen. 'Least you're not surprised if it does."

I learned to stare straight into the sun without sunglasses as I worked the truck’s unreliable transmission when I was six. I met the sun and all its difficulties head on. I had the resolve because I heard the murmurs, “Damn shame she’s not a boy.”

I pulled the weeds. I moved the irrigation pipe. I drove trucks before my feet could reach the pedal. I worked “like a man.” The land was mine.

Maybe. But not really. No. Not ever.

I am a child of dust and grit and sweat and bitterness. I am the sour palate of white trash, of one who worked the land without being a part. I am an unmentionable race. But, I exceed boundaries. Yet, I am no one. Not really. My roots run shallow. Family literacy, a newfound event, only a few generations old. My college degrees a shiny medal, an inviolate totem.

My accent always gives me away. But I’ve stopped caring. I’ve bigger fish to fry.

“Why can’t you do better?” I hear them say in the same breath as “You’re getting above your raising.”

I would do better to pull devil’s claws from someone’s field. I am no better than what I was. But I never reckoned myself as something to measure against another person's labor. 

I am the latest in a collection of foremothers whose land makes music I cannot deny.

I left the land, yet the story follows.

I pull the weeds. I smell the rain. I put down the words.  I raise all hell.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Metonymic Survey of Land Use on a 60-Mile Stretch of I-10

In Annie McClanahan’s book Dead Pledges, I found an intriguing passage: In it, McClanahan returns to a controversy over photos of ruined Detroit factories, mounted in a gallery exhibition right after the mortgage crisis. Critics called the photos ahistorical ruin porn and said the photographers were doing a disservice to the particular history of the crisis. But McClanahan wonders whether this judgment was hasty. The deregulation that emptied out US factories was connected to the 2008 crisis by the same global financial system, she argues; is there anything to be gained by trying to look at one part of that system with the help of another? You could tell a metonymic history, she says.

McClanahan offers little more about what she means by a metonymic history, but I’m intrigued by the phrase. How might we get at big economic and political forces by moving sideways amongst their constituent parts? Here I experiment with a Metonymic Survey of Land Use on a 60-Mile Strip of I-10. The uses were gathered on a single drive last Sunday, and I know little about them save whatever I’ve noted here.

Please help me compare parts, draw out adjacent facts, and riff between associations. At the cabinet (4th floor of Modern Languages), you can tie in connections with string, add notes and questions with the strips of paper I've left, and/r, if you're really bold, shuffle the photos themselves. Those who can't make it may email thoughts to


cotton farms

cement plants

car racing
(vehicle abandoned)

ostrich farm

mid-20th century tourist relics 

corporate responsibility

vacant land

furniture outlets

activity that requires a child's glove
(ATVing? gardening?)

appropriative freeway decoration

never-opened strip mall
(partially funded via EB-4 visa program)

vacant land with weird observation tower-cages

pecan farms
(long history in Arizona, though some farms moved here in response to drought in California)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

(Re)Consider The Lobster

Lobster Cages in the moonlight at the North Head Wharf; Grand Manan, New Brunswick. Photo by the author.

(Re)Consider the Lobster
by Katie Gougelet

Thanks for taking the time to visit my tiny cabinet this week! In the display, I explore/explain my summer research about the lobster industry in Grand Manan, New Brunswick with the Grand Manan Field Studies Program run by Professor Alison Deming. I juxtapose my own photos and artifacts from Grand Manan with various images of lobsters that have recently captured the public imagination. 

Below you'll find some quick notes I took after a visit to a lobster holding tank on Grand Manan. When David Foster Wallace wrote his famous essay Consider the Lobster, he commented on the living conditions of lobsters being held at the Maine Lobster Festival. In these large holding tanks, lobsters would often fight each other, and even cannibalize each other. The new technology at tank houses, like the one I visited in Grand Manan, provides a solution for this, and allows lobstermen to control precisely when they release their catch to the market. This technology has brought millions of dollars in revenue to the island of Grand Manan. The essay I’m working on now, “(Re)Consider the Lobster” explores current changes in the lobster industry in Grand Manan (including dramatic shifts in the population caused by climate change), and the game-changing role that these tank houses play in bringing more of this resource to an international community of lobster-hungry humans.

Fieldnotes from Grand Manan, New Brunswick:
Meeting Lobsters at the Tank House

The inside of the building is cold and fluorescent; the air is stale and smells not like fish or ocean but something subtler, something in between. The entire bottom of the building is filled with tanks burbling quietly, and in the tanks are cages that fall five feet deep beneath the floor that we walk on. Each of the cages is filled with dozens of lobsters. From our vantage point we can see just the tops of the cages otherwise, they are fully submerged, and bubbles and froth fill the gabs between the cages and the waterline. The tops of the cages are roped up with sea foam rope. And the cages themselves are three different colors: the green, the most abundant, are for the 1-2 pound lobsters; the yellow 2-4; the blue 4-6; and in the orange cages, deep under the water, the 6+ pound lobsters, lobsters so big that their meat is too tough to eat. Despite this, they are still profitable. The Chinese market for these large beasts has been growing though these lobsters cannot be eaten, they remain symbols of status at feasts. This particular tank house will load up these 6+ pounders into trucks and then into planes, where they will be shipped half way across the world to shine, dead on the table, in their newfound cultural status.
            The man who shows us around the operations has kind blue eyes, is tan, his hair thinning slightly, and is built like a man who has been at sea hauling lobster traps out of the ocean for a big portion of his life. He explains that in the cages, the lobsters are essentially doing what they do in winter, sleeping, really, their own version of hibernation. It’s called a “torpid state”: the lobster metabolism slows significantly, so that they need to eat and move very little.
            Each lobster sits in a lobster condo” a lobster-sized rectangular cube in which they rest, claws banded, as they get lowered in to the cold water. When the fishermen first put the lobsters in the water, it is room temperature, and then the new technology of the tank house allows them to gradually lower the temperature until it reaches just above freezing just enough to allow the lobsters to achieve their torpid metabolic states.
            “It’s just a second winter,” the man says, but I wonder how that affects their physiology living through another stage of cardiovascular suppression. When they wake up, he says, they are incredibly fierce. Snappy, spritely, keen to grab at the fingers of the women who are tasked with processing them, some of whom have in fact lost fingers or parts of them by processing the crustaceans in the past.  
            The man pulled a large cage of lobsters out from one of the very cold pools. I’m not sure what I expected they would look like in this supercool phase, but they seemed extraordinarily sentient; their antennae swiveling back and forth and their eyes, short, black glossy tubes, waggled a bit too. Their claws were larger than my hand; and realizing that made me put my hands out of sight. But while the littler lobsters can take off part of a finger, apparently the big ones move too slowly for that. Too old and sluggish from the rhythms of deep sea life.   
            David Foster Wallace describes lobsters as solitary creatures, crawling across the ocean floor or scuttling around backwards in a lithe flick of the tail. Scoop, swish, scuttle scuttle, claws grabbling at the cold ocean floor. I imagine what it might be like to be down there with them, the sound of all of them lobstering away, crawling into traps, grabbing some chicken, and if they’re sneaky, which so many of them are, escaping the traps to their blue green abyss.

            Since they’re solitary, what do they think now, up in the air before us? The black eyes of one of the biggest ones swivels, probing the air for information about this glistening fluorescent place, and the sad looking hominids – writers all of them - looking back.