Saturday, 31 December 2011

New Year Rulin's for 2012

Discussion of Woody Guthrie's 'New Year Rulin's for 1942' have been all over the internet this week with some inferring that Woody's inclusion of hygiene matters (3, 4, 5, 9, 11) as an indication that the Huntington's disease which killed him twenty-five years later, at the age of 55, was already at work.  Maybe that's so.  Maybe not.  Maybe he was just so busy spilling words onto paper (the Woody Guthrie Archives contain the lyrics to nearly 3000 songs) that some of life's more mundane tasks occasionally got forgotten.  

You can tell he's concerned about the way he's treated his family.  You can tell that, at the age of 30, he's thinking about his health - eat good, drink very scant if any - and about his spirit - don't get lonesome, stay glad, dream good, love, love, love - and about the need to take action and not waste time.  I see Woody's rulin's as a to do list, a way of taking small but meaningful steps to self improvement.  He's not making any grand promises here, but he is saying he's going to try to do better than he has done in the past.  Isn't that what we should all be doing?

Having given up making resolutions I know from the outset I won't be able to keep, I've taken inspiration from Woody's Rulin's, and drawn up a set of my own. 

A Review of 2011

This is the third annual review I’ve written since setting off on this journey.  One more should see me through to the end, at least as far as submitting my dissertation and preparing for the final viva.  The viva, the ultimate test of whether or not my work stands up to scrutiny, will come in just over a year’s time.  Not too much over, I hope, for I fear that my husband’s patience has its limits.  And so does mine.  After three years, we are both anxious to get our lives back.  Anxious to load up our bikes and find a nice quiet road to pedal down for a few months.  Route 66 sounds good, passing through abandoned Oklahoma towns on the way to the west coast.  So does the northern tier trans-America route as plotted out by the good people at the Adventure Cycling Association – from Bar Harbor, Maine all the way to Anacortes in Washington state.  Or better yet, their Lewis and Clark route which passes right through my hometown.  No detour required.  That would be appropriate, considering I’ve spent much of the last three years reading the expedition journals and pouring over maps of their route.  Though at 3,262 miles long, the ACA route is a couple of thousand miles too short for my taste, so detours would be called for.

Wherever our bikes take us, though, I feel certain that we will travel east to west, for the pull to the west, the pull towards home gets stronger with each passing year.  Like a rainbow trout that’s swallowed a nightcrawler, something is tugging at my insides. If I’m to stop from being turned inside out, I am sure that that is the direction I must go.  Or am I just imagining that’s the case?  Is it simply that I’ve been immersed in the mythologies of the American West so long now that I’ve started to believe they are true?  Have I grown nostalgic on memories from my youth, recollecting the stories of my people for the purpose of writing a book so that I believe what is over still is?  Sure enough, I’m being lured back – I’m allowing myself to be lured back.  It won’t take much for Idaho to reel me in and claim me once more.  But it’s a scary prospect, having spent half my life elsewhere.  What if I moved back and it was different?  What if I moved back and it was the same?

All of that is in the future, though, too far off for me to seriously consider right now while there’s still work to be done. 

Let me just finish what I started here, and look at what I’ve done this past year so that I can reassure myself that I am indeed moving forward (even while contemplating a step back). 

Progress on Dissertation:

  •           40,000 words submitted for the M.Phil. upgrade viva to Ph.D.
  •    Upgrade viva passed in September
  •    Novel: 70,000 words written
  •    Thesis: 16,000 words written

Conferences, Presentations and Events Attended:

  •    Publishing Panel, UoC, 27 April 2011
  •    Writing the Self, UoC, 1 June 2011
  •    The World Through Memoir, UoC, 15 June 2011
  •    Winchester Writers Conference, University of Winchester, 29 June 2011
  •    Historical Fiction with Stella Duffy and Emma Darwin, 22 September 2011
  •    Workshop with Stella Duffy, 25 September 2011
  •    Royal Society of Literature discussion with Sebastian Faulks, 24 October 2011

  •    ‘Cowboys and Clowns’, Moonlight Mesa,  January 2011
  •    Review of Eddie Chuculate’s Cheyenne Madonna, The Short Review, February 2011
  •    Review of Cris Mazza’s Trickle-down Timeline, The Short Review, March 2011 
  •    Review of Belle Boggs’s Mattaponi Queen, Short Fiction in Theory and Practice, vol, no 1 spring 2011
  •    Review of Linwood Laughy’s Fifth Generation, Western American Literature, spring 2011

  •    Peer reviewed 1 essay for Short Fiction in Theory and Practice 
  •    Part-time teaching on undergraduate programme at University of Chichester 
  •    Part-time employment as student mentor at University of Portsmouth
  •    Editor of THRESHOLDS Short Story Forum

So, what’s left to be done?

I’m on schedule to complete the first draft of Legacy by the end of March. I’ll then return to my thesis and complete my chapters on Identity and Authenticity, hopefully by the end of June. I’m waiting to hear whether or not my proposal for the Affective Landscapes Conference at the University of Derby has been accepted, but if it has, this should spur me into getting a useable chunk of work completed by mid-May. I’ll be finished teaching, marking and mentoring around the middle of June, and will be just about finished with my work on the website, so I’ll then have a solid three months without distractions (I’ll be lucky) to redraft and polish before getting everything ready to submit in mid-October. Then the viva in January 2013, and barring any major rewrites, off on the bikes as soon as the weather starts to warm up.

How's that then?  Sound like a plan?

Friday, 9 December 2011

Ten Events That Shaped the West

Here's an article from True West Magazine, published in February 2007. It lists some of the events of the frontier era of American history which the author points to as helping to shape not only the country but also the identity of the American people.  It's disappointing, but not surprising, that the list focusses almost exclusively on events that reinforce the heroic myth of Manifest Destiny and western expansion.  The one exception is The Battle of Little Bighorn - but even here the author manages to give a sympathetic account of Custer's defeat: ‘…the weapons the soldiers were issued were single-shot Springfield trapdoors with copper casings that jammed, while many of the warriors had armed themselves with lever-action Winchesters.’  In effect what he’s saying is that the Indians, by being better armed, weren’t playing fair.  It makes a change, but I’m still not going to shed any tears over the 7th Cavalry, I’m afraid.
Gen. George Armstrong Custer

This article got me to thinking, so I’ve put together my own list of events which, through research for my dissertation, I believe had the greatest impact on the development of the West – for better or worse:
Removal of eastern tribes to lands west of the Mississippi

1. The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 which doubled the size of United States lands overnight and gave purpose to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1804-1806. 
    2.  The Indian Removal Act of 1830 that set in motion the Trail of Tears, opening land for white farmers and transferring the country's first inhabitants (many of whom were also farmers) into marginal lands in the West.

A Forty-Niner
3.  The arrival of Christian missionaries in the West in the 1830s, seeding conflicts within tribes, and helping to destroy traditional culture.

4.  The California Gold Rush of 1849 which encouraged 300,000 people to head to the west coast to seek their fortunes. In just six years, the population of San Francisco increased from 200 inhabitants to 36,000. The influx of large numbers of immigrants had a devastating impact on the Native population. It is estimated that between 1845 and 1870, as many as 120,000 Indians – or four-fifths of the population – died as a direct result of the gold rush.

5.  The Indian Appropriations Act of 1851 which sought to confine Indians within reservations. 

6.  The near extermination of the buffalo in the 1870s, destroying a vital food source for Indian people throughout the central plains.
Fencing in the frontier

7.  The introduction of barbed wire in the mid-1870s. Barbed wire fencing was first marketed to farmers as an effective method for keeping cattle off of cultivated land. Cattlemen were initially opposed to its use because it stopped livestock from finding better grazing on open lands, but by the 1880s Texas ranchers used barbed wire to protect their land from overgrazing. With the arrival of the railroad, it was no longer necessary to move cattle to markets on long trail drives and by the 1890s, open ranges were a thing of the past.
Early Homesteaders

8.  The Dawes Act of 1887 further damaged traditional Indian life by allotting parcels of land to individual members of the tribe and encouraging private ownership and farming. The remaining ‘unassigned lands’ – often the majority of already reduced reservations – were then opened up to homesteaders.

9.  In 1892, the Johnson County War broke out in Wyoming after years of competition between small ranchers and 
Invaders, held at Fort D.A. Russell, 1892
wealthy cattlemen who grazed their livestock on public lands. After small ranchers were accused of cattle rustling, two dozen gunmen were brought in from Texas to protect the large ranching interests. Dubbed 'the Invaders,' the Texan mercenaries had already lynched a number of small ranchers when they and some of their supporters were trapped at the T.A. Ranch by the county sheriff and a posse of 200 men. During the ensuing stand off, the Wyoming Governor cabled President Harrison on behalf of the mercenaries, requesting he intervene to save them. Forty-five men were eventually rescued by the 6th cavalry and taken to Fort D.A. Russell to await trial. Charges were never filed against the 20 wealthy stockmen who were said to be behind the lynchings, however, and the men arrested at the T.A. Ranch were released on bail before disappearing into the woodwork. Comparisons with contemporary political and economic conflicts are easily made.
Oklahoma Land Rush 1889, by Xiang Zhang

10.  The various land runs in the West brought an influx of white farmers onto the grasslands. Good harvests over several years encouraged even more farmers onto more land, and over the years the use of modern machinery brought still more land into production. Poor farming methods, however, destroyed the soil's natural resilience, and led to severe erosion. When the drought began in 1930, crops failed and, without vegetation to hold it in place, the land was exposed to further erosion by the wind. In parts of Oklahoma, as much as 75% of the topsoil was lost in dust storms between 1930 and 1940.

South Dakota, 1936