To Drawl or Not To Drawl?

Don’t you love it when everything collides – in a good way? It’s like the fellas[1] at CERN must have felt when they found God with a 5-sigma level certainty.[2] I don’t live in a super-collider, so I have to take my tiny glimpses of God as they come.

I have been trying to think of a witty way to tell you about the mail I received last week: that funny little cassette tape and the oddly cryptic sticky note. But, I can’t find a way to be witty about it, so I’ll just tell you.

Are you ready to tee-tee your pants just a little?

Mama Lisa, in the last days of her life (apparently knowing this), could not type very well and couldn’t hold a pencil hardly at all. It must have been agony to scrawl my address and “More to come.” She grabbed a tape recorder and a cassette and talked me a lesson. Given that I do not have a tape recorder (a fact that still puzzles me), I sat in my car, on a day when the sun beat down 106 degrees, with the AC blasting and Mama Lisa’s voice spilling from my speakers. Now, Mama Lisa has never been my mentor in the formal sense of the word. She has guided me and advised me and taught me plenty, but she has never been my ceremonial trainer. A Louisiana Voodooisant to the core, she and I walked parallel roads that were, nevertheless, different roads.

In what I will call the “epilogue” to the cassette, Mama Lisa explained that her grand-nephew was her appointed executor and that she was leaving her “earthly belongings” to her kin (obvs) but that she wanted to impart some knowledge to a few of us who “meant something” to her.[3] She explained that her daughters had passed on before her (I had not known this) and that her sons had chosen the path of Christian Pastoring (I had known this). Her late sister’s grandson, Wade, was the only kin she had who remained sympathetic to her practices. For this reason, she needed to know that her “know-how” would live on beyond her.

The rest of the cassette was full of recipes and exercises and methods of conjuration. Now, you might romanticize this and hear Papa Justified’s voice and cadence from Skeleton Key. But, somehow, the soft-crackling under-nuanced simplicity of her voice was more powerful. Or maybe that’s just what admiration does to one’s perception.

In the end, she told me that I had permission to “write it all down” and do “what [I had] to with it.” It seems Wade will be sending me some sort of release . . . someday. Until then, I have a problem to discuss with y’all.

Here’s where the collision happens.

As I have become fond of the dialectic between bloggers, I will tell you that today I read a post from fellow blogger. The main gist seems to be the structuralist thought that when we label something, we diminish intuitive meaning in that we confine it to language. She applies this to Pagan practices and to a little incident in our town.

To recap/paraphrase-to-near-non-recognition that story – but not to co-opt it (on accoun’o’ its part of my story too):

Once upon a time there was a Pagan teacher. She kept her nose clean at work and didn’t tell nobody she was a Witch. Then one day a student stumbled onto her Witchy blog and snitched. As if it was a bad thing. Said teacher got her pointy-hat proverbially handed to her. And, “even though others in her department had been a bit more, um, ‘out there,’ . . . a whole passel of angry townsfolk show up at her career door. . . ” (emphasis added). This makes me down-rightly defensive on said teacher’s behalf.

On accoun’o’ – I wear a (visible) pentagram to work every day, I openly discuss religion and even assign it as a topic in my Cultural Diversity classes. I’ve told y’all. On occasion, I have shared my blog with very particular students when they press me hard enough. I am the faculty advisor of the Pagan Student Organization. I’m whatcha call “out there.” But I guess I don’t look “native” enough to get pegged. Strange, no?

I’m off every radar; I was even called a “prude” by a Wiccan once.

In the past, I have been accused of not being “A Real Southerner.” But when my kin have been on Alabama soil since before the Revolution, some since time unknown, I don’t know what else that makes me. Sure, I was raised partly in Chicago (during the school years) and learned not to speak with a drawl or to call folks “Cracker” in public and what really goes on a hot dawg and that pizza should be big enough for a knife and fork, but does that negate the fact that my Momma taught me how to make biscuits and sausage gravy, pickles, and Muscadine jelly, that standardized spelling and grammar were never really my friends, that shoes ain’t been worn ‘less they got red clay in the treads, or that I know a fire ant from a chigger from a seed tick? Donna Harraway might call me a Cyborg.

Just because I wear shoes when I’m outside doesn’t make me anything less than a generation removed from Appalachia.[6] But are flip-flops really shoes when it’s January? But if it don’t quack with a drawl, is it really a Southern duck? Darn-tootin’. Quack, quack.

But here’s a kick in the head: A drawl can be faked. And as we all know, sadly, a High Priestess status can be faked too. I’ve seen it happen. So do our signifiers truly signify? Judith Butler calls it performance. When is it performance and when is it lying?[7]

Ah, but here’s a kick to the other side of the head. A drawl can also be suppressed: it’s presumed to be not just OK, but preferred for a “hick” to adopt standardized speech patterns and aesthetics. Folks get buggy if we twist it the other way around and suggest that Southernisms have a value worth emulating. And one’s religion can likewise be suppressed: it’s presumed to be not just OK, but preferred for a Pagan to “hide” behind Atheism or Agnosticism. Folks get buggy if . . . you see what I mean?

Is it more of an insult to emulate non-standardness or to be expected deny one’s non-standardness?[8]

This brings me back to point A of my collision.

Mama Lisa’s speech patterns are, um, distinctive. We’ll go with distinctive. My first impulse is to type out her words in my PhD-totin’ voice. Then it occurred to me that I should try to remain true to her voice rather than overlaying it with my own voice, and that I should transcribe her words exactly. But then it occurred to me that I might be creating a caricature of a revered figure by producing dialect. Then it occurred to me that this is stoopid, why would a dialect take away any of the reverence I have for her (and that everyone should have for her). Then it occurred to me that folks can be arses and that dialect often (mistakenly) equals to pigeonholing[9] and that a little white chicka writing in the voice of a substantial black woman from the bayous of Louisiana might perceived as black-face.[10]

So. What’s a Witch to do?

Do I:

A) Write Mama Lisa’s brainchild in Standard English thereby losing some things that just don’t translate. Do I translate “You gotsa do it like dis fo it t’werk right” into “Follow this practice for best success”? Though the meaning translates, it just sounds – what’s the word I’m looking for? – pompous. “Pompous” will do. Mama Lisa was never pompous a day in her long life.

B) Do I “clean up” the phraseology while still remaining colloquial? This is what the gospellers did (for the most part, ‘cept John). They took what was undoubtedly said in Aramaic and wrote it in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. Sure it made Jesus seem educated and accessible to a Romanized audience, but it took away his Quack. But then again, I am in love with Mama Lisa’s voice and want to represent her well, but have you ever read The Color Purple? The dialect can be cumbersome.

C) Or do I “Go Native” and run the risk of overdoing the parlance? I am, after all, a little white girl from the Shoals + Chicargo.

All advice will be gratefully accepted.

B, Q, 93,

TBW


[1] Girls can be fellas. Don’t razz me about this one. I have bigger balls than most of the men I know.

[2] If you’ve been under a rock: read this.  And to be sure, henceforth, The Bad Witch will be using the term “5-Sigma” to apply to all measurable levels of things.

[3] I was bawling by this point.

. . .

[6] Actually been arguing with my Bad Sister this week over genealogy. While Momma and Daddy are related only by marriage, I know clear-well that they are both related to themselves a dozen times over. What I didn’t know was that some of their brothers and sisters married kin as late as the 1960s – maybe later. My sister refuses to be inbred. I’ve decided to find it chaaaaaming.

[7] A:         When the performance is truthier than the “truth.” (I think I’m supposed to cite Stephen Colbert here.)

[8] This is not a jibe at those who chose to remain private about life-choices, religion included. It’s a smack-down aimed at those who think “that’s the way it oughtta be.” Just pretend to be straight/white/Christian/conservative/whatever-else-you’re-not-that-might-make-us-uncomfortable. And being unwillingly “outed” in any way, shape, or form (especially at a private function) is downright ugly.

[9] A co-worker once made the mistake of telling me that we teach students to read “great literature” so that they can have souls. I asked him if my illiterate auntie who feeds the invalids of North Alabama or my (much older) Native cousins who live on a reservation in Oklahoma and chose not to attend English school but who practice Earth Healing (and now run a lucrative casino – but not at the time) were soulless. He stammered. Like the time he commented on the inappropriateness of “Lower Stratum” studies before learning that I had just published a paper on Rabelaisian Carnival and 20th Century adult-themed animation. <Faceplant.> See, I don’t look like a redneck so folks feel free to show me their bigotry. Quack. Like the time I left the all-white (all-boarder-states-at-best) department “band” because when they selected their music, they chose the most grossly racist versions of “real Alabamian” music to play at a local festival and then tittered about it. Quack, quack.

[10] Now that I think of it, I met Mama Lisa while in NOLA at an academic conference geared toward American Humor Studies; the primary subject was Mark Twain and “minstrelsy.” Not a collision at all.