Category Archives: self

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Today was a unique experience to me, but one that could be played out all over this country. I knew my ancestors had slaves, but today I met my cousins, the descendants of those slaves at a reunion of the Carson family held at the Carson House in Marion, NC. Seems great-great-great-great grandpa had two full sets of children with two women, just across the creek from each other, each in their own house. The black slave woman with whom he had 12 children was named Kadella. She was considered a princess, perhaps the daughter of an African king and did no work except for making beautiful quilts and exquisite hand sewn clothing.

My new long lost cousins

My new long lost Carson cousins - Preston & Ken

That and having kids all the time. They say she never walked anywhere and was carried around by the other slaves on a palanquin. An interesting note to this story was that Master John Carson sent the children (update – make that just the boys) he had with Kadella to the north as soon as they turned 14 so they did not become slaves themselves, except for the last two who probably turned 14 after his death. (Another version of the story is they were sent away because of their “shameful likeness” to their father.) I could not find whether any of the people at the reunion were related to those children who went north. Lots of the history is a bit fuzzy for obvious reasons. Names came up again and again. My great great grandfather William Carson was the son of the original John Carson. There were several Will and William Carsons there. People came from NY, NJ and Texas. Many others from NC, Hickory, Statesville, Morganton, Marion, stayed close to home.

My family on Mom’s side is so small, it was fun to be among this large extended family. Sure, at best we are probably 6th or 7th cousins, but blood is blood.

Where it all began

Where it all began

There is a moment in history where we were joined. It is a strange history, a bitter one, and I was ambivalent about one of the other white relatives who gave a short talk and apologized to all the black Carsons. Should we be sorry that we are all here today together? That our common ancestor was the man he was? Isn’t it presumptuous to apologize for their own progenitor as if we as 21st century white people bear more responsibility for his actions than they do? We are all his descendants. I am sorry that it happened, but can only do what I can do in this life to see that the wrongs of society are addressed in the here and now.

One of the other black Carsons (could not find him after he talked to get his name) got up and led with the line,”Guess who’s coming to dinner” which got a great laugh and applause.
_DEB0046_2He went on to say, “This is where it started. Our Chicken George, our Kunta Kinte. We built this house. And today, nobody came in the back door.” Earlier when he was sitting beside me he mentioned the family resemblances and pointed to his little boy, “see that nose?” And sure enough, looking at my Mom, that was a Carson nose.

The black Carson relatives have been having reunions for years, but this is the first time they came to the Carson House where it began. And the first that the white side was invited, kind of. Mom saw something about it in the newspaper. It said all relatives were welcome. We were a tiny minority, but I am glad I went, though I would be interested to meet more relatives on any side. There are so many intertwined stories there. It would make a great book, or movie or miniseries. The sensibility now would be very different from the days of Roots when it would not have been p.c. to explore the depths of the love John Carson had for his slave wife and children. Or to talk about the intermarriages of his sons with the slave women as well as the indigenous Cherokee.

There was another quilter in the house, a woman named Fatima. _DEB0027Her story could be yet another thread in the saga. She claimed to be of noble blood and claimed to be able to read and write though her writing was illegible to anyone in the house, until a traveling preacher who had been in Africa as a missionary came through and recognized her writing as Arabic. It also explained that she had brothers named Mohammed and that she was a Muslim. She was also apparently very tough to deal with and was traded after being there for a short time. I would love to know her whole story.

The slave records had been transcribed for this event and there were lists with names and ages. It was interesting to see that there were a number of people 60 and older who were just listed as invalids, taken care of when they could no longer work. I wish there were time machines to go back and see how it really was. _DEB0044_2No doubt, it would sicken me a lot of the time, but I know it would be very different from our pictures of the life, since there are no real histories, only fragments of what the educated thought should be written – their version of the story, leaving out the majority of the people – slaves, women, the Cherokee.

At the Carson Plantation, during the Civil War, when the Yankees came through on Stoneman’s Raid, the slaves put mud on faces of the master’s children and hid them and their mother and fed them from their own meager stores of food. Many of the slaves stayed on with the family long after the war ended and they were freed. I think that these families in the isolation of the western mountains had become close. There are stories of slave-master children marrying into the families of the locals and in the end, the ancestry is so mixed as to be indistinguishable. When we arrived, one woman who spoke with me early on was a white woman whose great-great grandfather had a child with a slave woman who was her great grandmother. I would love to see a family tree and I am hoping that some of the people I talked with and traded email addresses with will be able to help with the other (until now unknown) side of the family. I hope this is just the beginning of a beautiful kinship.



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Chickflix is online

The new website

The new website

A couple of years ago, my roomies Hannah and Ellen and I started talking about a website. Hannah even registed the name and there it sat in cyberspace until now. Being that we are all 3 unemployed for the most part, I finally got online and set one up. We’ll see if we get it off the ground, but it is a start.

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Life on the other end of the worm hole

How did this happen? I live in Ashevegas.

Slang term used for the city of Asheville located in the southern Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina. Noted for it’s liberal, tolerant, live-and-let-live social culture making it quite different from most of the southeastern United States. Asheville, NC is home to many musicians and other artists. Population as of year 2007 – approximately 80,000.


This is one strange place to have landed. I believe there are more tattoos and piercings per capita here than anywhere on earth, and I am including biker bars, heavy metal concerts and LA in that estimation. There are also swarms of wealthy retirees and throngs of tubby tourists. No one seems to work. Many spend their days going to yoga and crystal readings, hanging at the oh-so-hip health food store, or playing music in the streets. 8592_4359_mFor another demographic, there are gun shows at the civic center almost every time I turn around (I hope they are mostly looking) and something called The Mountain Brawl took place there just last week. This is, however, the same Civic Center where the visual artiste couple Christo and Jeanne Claude gave a lecture the same night country music star Toby Keith was wailing away in the adjacent auditorium. And a quick check of the upcoming calendar reveals the Asheville Symphony performing tomorrow, followed a few days later by the Blue Ridge Rollergirls, and then Phish. Something for every taste, it seems.

Last night was the first of the summer Downtown after Five street bashes with lots of beer and street food, pulsing music and an excellent opportunity to observe the eclectic group of people that make up the population of this town. hippiesLegions of the young tattoed and pierced cooks and wait staff that seem to run the culinary scene here, packs of old hippies, hanging onto their youth by wearing the same clothes and haircuts that got them through the eighties, alongside lots of young families with out of control kids running madly through the crowds with music so loud the parents’ yells were futile. In the middle of it all was a tiny island of Christianity holding large signs informing this less than devout crowd that God is angry.

Many years ago, when I contemplated moving here, a friend in LA asked (quite astutely it turns out) “Are you really ready to retire?” 8584_4359_mFinding work here is nearly impossible. The want ads have nothing remotely interesting or that pays more than minimum wage. Unless you are interested in working in the health care field (I am not), you must start a business of your own, or work out of town as a few friends do. That’s where I am at the moment– running scenarios, coming up with business plans, websites, discussing working extremely long-distance from China. Something will come, but meanwhile, I am trying to find a way into this world that is Ashevegas.

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asheville1I have officially moved from LA to NC. Scary thought! Sure there were those years in Shanghai in between. And I am not so sure that small town America is the place for me, but at least for the time being, this is where I am. The whole process of moving has been painful and frustrating, and I am hemorrhaging money. Not a good start — a bad omen (if you believe in such things.)

300px-losangeles04The Move began with a flight to the City of Lost Angles to release my worldly possessions from storage. For the past 3 years my precious items have been languishing in a shipping crate in Rancho Cucamonga, hoping to be set free and used again. When I was planning the move, the movers said they needed an inventory so they could estimate how much it would cost. Frankly, I had no idea how many boxes there were nor did I remember all the other things I’d stuffed in there. So after laying out my lifestyle and how I’d pared down before puttting everything in that crate, we agreed on there being a just bit over a ton of stuff. I arrived early to meet the moving company and when I opened the crate, I was astounded d by the number of possessions I still have. I distinctly remembered having given away all but the “most important” items– pared down, scaled back, gone minimal. But instead of the 25 boxes I had told them about, there were probably 65 or 70. And I’d forgotten the filing cabinets, and that nice bedside table, my bulky old computer and enormous monitor, not to mention dozens of other “absolutely necessary” things.

The moving men arrived and went on a bit about the amount of stuff there actually was in the crate, then they loaded and repacked, and once it was all on the truck, it was time to negotiate the “real” price of the move. Based on the original one ton+, the price was around $1200. But now, they eyeballed it and decided that $2500 was closer to the mark. They mentioned something about there being X linear feet and that meant that it weighed Y. The original concept as I understood it was based solely on weight — .60 per pound. But now, it was .90 per pound for everything over the original 2200 lbs! (Seems that was in the fine print.) And since all my stuff was now on the truck, I was in no position to negotiate. They decided that it was closer to 2 tons. And the head guy told me he was getting me the best price, but that if they weighed it, it might be more. I had to make a decision on the spot. Not being a mover I have no “eye” for weight, no way of saying what the real weight was. Of course, had I estimated it to be 2 tons and it was less, then they would not give me back money. (In fact, I later found out they never weighed it at all.) It is a racket. How naive of me! I should have known, and when I realized they were based in Vegas it all became crystal clear. But my life was in their hands, or should I say my possessions, and my money, in their bank, so I headed back to LA, had lots of drinks with lots of friends and then I flew home and waited.

dscf3772And waited. And then they called to say they’d be here on Thursday morning – 2 weeks later. That was pushed back to Friday, then Saturday and then finally the movers arrived on Sunday. As I waited, a trio of local men stood on the sidewalk chatting. They turned out to be the ones who would carry my possessions into my new apartment. The truck arrived and my things were wedged in between the possessions of 10 other families. Extracting my items took some time and a few other people’s things nearly found their way into my house. My dining table proved to be too long to make it up the stairs because of the turn it had to take, so it was left on the front porch. One of the moving men was old and infirm and I was concerned that he might collapse as he huffed and puffed up and down the stairs; the other guys seemed to be fine with him just carrying the lightest stuff like the fan or the box of pillows. I think he was probably also illiterate since all the boxes were clearly marked as to which room they went in, and he didn’t get one right if I didn’t point him in the right direction.

As to taking care of my things, the first thing I noticed was that one antique wooden wheel on my desk was missing. The driver said they would replace it and took a photo with his phone, but I am not expecting anything. Boxes were smashed and any pretense of them treating things carefully was destroyed. dscf3774Once they left, and I surveyed the piles, began to unwrap and unpack, and I realized how badly they had messed up the move. My phone, answering machine, favorite lamp, entire CD collection and a much-loved large art piece were nowhere to be found. And those were just the things I looked for. I am sure other items that I have not needed are also gone. When I called the company, they promised to look for my stuff in the warehouse, but I am not holding my breath. Their insurance policy is that they will repay .60 per pound. So if I lost 100 pounds worth, they will give me $60. I cannot imagine how you prove what is gone or how much it weighed. It’s a racket with a warehouse where people get to take your things. Or maybe they just give your stuff to other families. If the other people don’t call to say they have someone else’s possessions, then what?

As I unpacked, I started thinking about what a move says about a person. What did I keep? What do my possessions say about me? I have a lot of art work. And a ton of paper and books. The photography apparatus that I cannot let go of must mean something. My kitchen is very well appointed; I barely had to buy anything to get to work in there. So, I am all about food, art, and books. Hmm…

There are certain items of clothing that I have not worn in years, yet can’t bring myself to give away. I am hanging on to a beautiful though extremely petite jacket that was made for my great grandmother, to wear over a dress with a bustle and I know it should be specially treated, but how? I have lived from a couple of suitcases for the last few years and really have not said to myself very often that I miss my other clothes, yet I have boxes full and now closets crammed with various suits and skirts that I have not thought of in ages. There is one give-away box that I am trying to get myself to fill, even if it is ever so slowly.

My office is box after box of papers. I can’t imagine what I could be saving. There are two filing cabinets full and at least 5 more boxes filled with who knows what papers. It will be interesting to see what is in them all, though it maybe depressing to think that I thought it was imperative to hold on to all that paper. If the movers could have just lost some of the trash and delivered the things I miss, would I even notice the missing paper?

So here I am, sitting in my incomplete living room; the sofa will not arrive from the One Day Delivery store for 2 1/2 weeks. My bedroom is incomplete as the dresser has been sent out for refurbishing. My dining room is not set up since the table is still sitting on the front porch waiting for the carpenter who is working on the dresser to come over and disassemble it outside and reassemble it inside. So my life seems very discombobulated at present. I feel like nothing is together. And until it is, I am deferring living here.

My new home is the top floor. It snowed today.

My new home is the top floor. Yeah, it snowed today.

Yeah, I know that it is ridiculous. I could write, or photograph, or begin my web design in the midst of this disorder, but it is the organizer in me that wants it all to be in its place before I am. A silly justification to keep myself from getting into living here, no doubt.

But this is where I am. This is where I live. And in a few weeks, the sofa, the dresser, and the table will all be here, I will have finished opening all the boxes and deciding what to do with all the things I kept in that crate, and I will be without excuse. What then?


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21st Century Hobo

hobo4-filteredWhile in St. Louis for Thanksgiving, I was talking about being a wanderer, adventurer and came up with my new job: 21st century hobo. Then of course, as I am always anxious to be up on the necessary skills for a given job, I decided to research the actual history of the hobo.

An ethical code was created during the 1889 National Hobo Convention in St. Louis Missouri. They had a convention! How wild is that? But I think the rules would be a good start for society today.

1. Decide your own life, don’t let another person run or rule you.
2. When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman (kind and considerate) at all times.
3. Don’t take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable situation, locals or other hobos.
4. Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so you not only help a business along, but ensure employment should you return to that town again.
5. When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts. (Be creative!)
6. Do not allow yourself to become a stupid drunk and set a bad example for locals treatment of other hobos. (This should be a rule in all bars and on every college campus in America.)
7. When jungling in town, respect handouts, do not wear them out; another hobo will be coming along who will need them as bad, if not worse than you.
8. Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are jungling. (Environmentalists!)
9. If in a community jungle, always pitch in and help.
10. Try to stay clean, and boil up wherever possible.
11. When traveling, ride your train respectfully, take no personal chances, cause no problems with the operating crew or host railroad, act like an extra crew member.
12. Do not cause problems in a train yard, another hobo will be coming along who will need passage through that yard.
13. Do not allow other hobos to molest children, expose to authorities all molesters; they are the worst garbage to infest any society.
14. Help all runaway children, and try to induce them to return home.
15. Help your fellow hobos whenever and wherever needed, you may need their help someday.

sjff_01_img0476There are plenty of homeless people in the US now (600,000+), but they do not seem to live by the code of the hobo. Then again our whole of society has changed. Acting like a gentleman is rare even in “polite” society.

An interesting site for the new hobo is here. traveling-hobo-signsApparently, the hobos of yore had a system of signs to alert one another of what was going on around a particular location. For instance:

* A cross signified “angel food,” that is, food served to the hobos after a party.
* A triangle with hands signified that the homeowner had a gun.
* Sharp teeth signified a mean dog.
* A square missing its top line signified it was safe to camp in that location.
* A top hat and a triangle signified wealth.
* A spearhead signified a warning to defend oneself.
* A circle with two parallel arrows meant to get out fast, as hobos were not welcome in the area.
* Two interlocked humans signified handcuffs. (i.e. hobos are hauled off to jail).
* A Caduceus symbol signified the house had a doctor living in it.
* A cat signified that a kind lady lives here.
* A wavy line (signifying water) above an X meant fresh water and a campsite.
* Three diagonal lines meant it wasn’t a safe place.
* A square with a slanted roof (signifying a house) with an X through it meant that the house had already been “burned” or “tricked” by another hobo and wasn’t a trusting house.
* Two shovels, signifying work was available (Shovels, because most hobos did manual labor).

I am now on the look-out for new ciphers of the 21st century hobo. It is a bit hard to distinguish any real signs from general graffiti. Clever hobos!

And it turns out that since 1900, The National Hobo Convention has been held annually on the second weekend of August in the town of Britt, Iowa. It is the largest gathering of “hobos, rail-riders, and tramps, who gather to celebrate the American traveling worker.” I wonder how many people arrive there by rail.

Okay, I am not really going to start riding the rails. I need a computer and a comfortable place to sleep. But the freedom that the hobo life suggests does appeal. Traveling at will, no responsibilities, few possessions, a romantic rebellious existence, however, the reality of homelessness is pretty scary. I have spent a good deal of my adult life in a nomadic fashion though, so there is a hobophilia to me. Maybe my attraction to the life is an expression that travel and adventure need to be a part of whatever I do. So how to be that 21st century hobo? The downsized life with fewer possessions and less structure are the beginning.


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Happy Reading List

Seems books are popping up in front of me right and left begging to be read. I consider buying them all, taking the stack to a desert island and reading for days, then waiting for the epiphany (in the warm sun with a nice tropical drink in hand.)

41rplgartil_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa240_sh20_ou01_Bounce!: Failure, Resiliency, and Confidence to Achieve Your Next Great Success by Barry J. Moltz

Bounce! lets you move forward from any event, situation, or outcome—good or bad—to the next place where a decision can be made based on the choices currently available to you. Bounce! allows us to be passionately excited and intensely enthusiastic about our business and our lives.

How long do I wait? Seems familiar, like the story of my life. Perhaps waiting is not the best answer.
41s1t2at2kl_sl500_aa240_Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

Stumbling on Happiness is a book about a very simple but powerful idea. What distinguishes us as human beings from other animals is our ability to predict the future–or rather, our interest in predicting the future. We spend a great deal of our waking life imagining what it would be like to be this way or that way, or to do this or that, or taste or buy or experience some state or feeling or thing. We do that for good reasons: it is what allows us to shape our life. And it is by trying to exert some control over our futures that we attempt to be happy. But by any objective measure, we are really bad at that predictive function. We’re terrible at knowing how we will feel a day or a month or year from now, and even worse at knowing what will and will not bring us that cherished happiness. Gilbert sets out to figure what that’s so: why we are so terrible at something that would seem to be so extraordinarily important?

Penning my own epiphanic book after I read all the others might make me happy. People who write books must be happy when they are published and people buy them, no?

41tzkh4nrl_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa240_sh20_ou01_Release Your Brilliance by Simon T. Bailey

Each of us is born brilliant. Then we spend the rest of our lives having our brilliance buried by people, circumstances, and experiences. Eventually, we forget that we ever had genius and special talents, and our brilliance is locked away in a vault deep within. So we settle for who we are, instead of striving for who we were meant to be. Release Your Brilliance provides the combination to the vault where your brilliance is kept.

Guess I need to find an island and a big book bag and some paper to write on.
b0de820dd7a09236ebfaf010l1The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt

The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, lamented St. Paul, and this engrossing scientific interpretation of traditional lore backs him up with hard data. Citing Plato, Buddha and modern brain science, psychologist Haidt notes the mind is like an “elephant” of automatic desires and impulses atop which conscious intention is an ineffectual “rider.” Haidt sifts Eastern and Western religious and philosophical traditions for other nuggets of wisdom to substantiate—and sometimes critique—with the findings of neurology and cognitive psychology. The Buddhist-Stoic injunction to cast off worldly attachments in pursuit of happiness, for example, is backed up by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s studies into pleasure. And Nietzsche’s contention that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger is considered against research into post-traumatic growth. An exponent of the “positive psychology” movement, Haidt also offers practical advice on finding happiness and meaning. Riches don’t matter much, he observes, but close relationships, quiet surroundings and short commutes help a lot, while meditation, cognitive psychotherapy and Prozac are equally valid remedies for constitutional unhappiness. Haidt sometimes seems reductionist, but his is an erudite, fluently written, stimulating reassessment of age-old issues.

Is it possible to find the answer in books? Oh, to have the nerve.


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Brain Stretching

In Dorothea Brande’s book Wake Up and Live, she suggests twelve mental exercises to pull you out of your usual habits and put you in situations that demand resourcefulness and creative problem-solving. Her premise is that people who stray from their routines, try new things, explore, and experiment tend to be happier than those who don’t. Of course, as Brande herself points out, novelty and challenge can also bring frustration, anxiety, confusion, and annoyance along the way; it’s the process of facing those challenges that brings the “atmosphere of growth” so important to happiness. radioactive-happiness-face

Here are Dorothea Brande’s twelve mental exercises. Note: she wrote these in 1936, so you need to adapt of few of them.

1. Spend an hour each day without saying anything except in answer to direct questions, in the midst of the usual group, without creating the impression that you’re sulking or ill. Be as ordinary as possible. But do not volunteer remarks or try to draw out information.

2. Think for 30 minutes a day about one subject exclusively. Start with five minutes.

3. Write a letter without using the words I, me, mine, my.

4. Talk for 15 minutes a day without using I, me, my, mine.

5. Write a letter in a “successful” or placid tone. No misstatements, no lying. Look for aspects or activities that can be honestly reported that way.

6. Pause on the threshold of any crowded room and size it up.

7. Keep a new acquaintance talking about himself or herself without allowing him to become conscious of it. Turn back any courteous reciprocal questions in a way that your auditor doesn’t feel rebuffed.

8. Talk exclusively about yourself and your interests without complaining, boasting, or boring your companions.

9. Cut “I mean” or “As a matter of fact” or any other verbal mannerism out of your conversation.

10. Plan two hours of a day and stick to the plan.

11. Set yourself twelve tasks at random: e.g., go twenty miles from home using ordinary conveyance; go 12 hours without food; go eat a meal in the unlikelist place you can find; say nothing all day except in answer to questions; stay up all night and work.

12. From time to time, give yourself a day when you answer “yes” to any reasonable request.

If you’d like to read a more lengthy explanation of the twelve disciplines, or about Brande’s explanation for these exercises, go here and search for Chapter 11 – Twelve Disciplines.

Thanks to Gretchen Rubin author of THE HAPPINESS PROJECT–a memoir about the year she spent test-driving every principle, tip, theory, and scientific study she could find, whether from Aristotle or St. Therese or Martin Seligman or Oprah.

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