Assigning Blame on Armistice Day

 

poppy tower

Yeoman Serjeant Bob Loughlin walks through a mass of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London. Credit: Nick Ansell/PA Wire – via ITV

I care about World War I in the way I do because I was, for three years, thrust into the role of British schoolchild. I was 12 when we arrived in 1998, 15 when we left, a year older than my classmates because I didn’t know Latin or French or anything at all about the Battle of Hastings. I was barely aware of the Great War not because we hadn’t gotten that far in history class, but because America takes no great pains to mythologize a war in which we barely participated, which did not devastate our continent, which did not wipe out or irreparably scar most of our population. My first year in school, I had no idea why we had to have an assembly at 11am, oddly timed during morning break. My classmates all knew it was for a moment of silence. Why don’t we have that in the US?

British imports like “Downton Abbey” have surely done more to educate Americans about WWI than our common curricula. I’m not sure this is a problem, as all countries will adjust their lessons to form their own national consciences; I can’t make a strong case for amping up WWI history when there is so much American history that hasn’t yet made it into our mythology and/or national shame. One valuable take I read this week was from MIT News, wherein Professor Stephen Van Evera discusses the value in assigning blame to countries and leaders who instigated global conflict. Most notable was Germany’s insistence on innocence in WWI, and the propaganda that perceived innocence produced: “[These myths] were devised and spread by the Kriegsschuldreferat (War Guilt Office), a secret unit in the German foreign ministry.” Seriously, “War Guilt Office.” Germans and Europe as a whole did an about-face after WWII, infusing responsibility and a common education among the people: “By enabling a rough consensus among former belligerents on who was responsible for past violence these historians and schoolteachers played a large role in healing the wounds of the world wars and making another round of war impossible.” In general, more straightforward self-blame in our national curricula would certainly be beneficial for all countries, particularly Britain and the US (hello Imperialism, hello migrant caravan, for starters).

But I meant to just write about myself, my own bland history in which I self-mythologize as a misplaced girl who internalizes the Romance and misery of an era and buttons it up with wartorn poetry. I remember the ocean of graves at the Somme as truly sobering, even for bolshy English teens. I remember at least one classmate crying. I wrote a fairly bad sonnet series about the whole ordeal in college, which I am too embarrassed to self-publish. My fascination in WWI, or at least the culture and era surrounding it, is one of the strongest imprints from that period. I never liked “The Great Gatsby” because blasé Nick Carraway dismisses the war as some boring activity in the first couple of chapters, before I could even get to the real brutish behavior. How fucking dare he, when this poem exists:

Final stanza of “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918, killed in the final days of the war)

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

 

Also killed in the final days of the war was the American Everit Herter, whose letters and diary I found in a grad school class about finding inspiration through historical documents. The poem is little more than a reorganization of his blunt, illustrative diary, an indictment of false hope. Sitting in tragedy for a bit on Armistice Day/Veterans Day seems like the most appropriate celebration.

Our Best Bet: Everit Herter’s Diary, June 9, 1918
By Joelle Jameson

It is far too cold to write letters.
One can barely hold a pencil.

I have to talk to peasants
to find where we are headed.
They have the same story:
they are ready to stop fighting
— but our paltry trainload
of a thousand men
looks more like a million
to them, and seeing train
after train pass through
has grown their courage
to a dizzying height.

They have no idea
how many we are, but find
the exaggerated estimatee
very cheering. I have noticed
groups in cafes — in the streets — everywhere —
talking: it’s always “les Américains” this,
and “L’Amérique” that. They see us
as their best bet, and our troops do nothing
to meet their hopes, besides acting
as walking columns of cash,
not knowing the value
of the coins in their pockets.
Wine and pastry every day —
a fearful combination, I might add.
In the streets, where women in mourning
are distressingly evident, children follow
begging for sou-sous. Quite
the fearful combination.

We may win the war,
like an army of locusts
which leaves France victorious
but ruined. God knows
they are sufficiently ruined
without our assistance,

and victory is still
a roseate dream
in the dimmest distance.

 

Goodbye to Joelle’s Houston

 

h-town 2We moved from Houston back to the Boston area in early August: before the hurricane, before the world series. Unexpected and serendipitous (everyone’s okay). After trying to write about leaving Houston in a few different ways, I figured that all I want to express, really, is a series of memories and forever-affiliations I will have as my own crummy personal souvenir. 

F*** You, Houston’s Awesome

Mosquito bites have finally faded
I no longer brace myself for cockroaches in empty beer cans
Excessive sweating is reserved for biking up hills
I’ve moved from Houston back to Somerville

Farewell, sweet lizards skittering on mangled sidewalks
Oranges and avocados on the landlord’s tree
Goodbye Gene Wu and Sheila Jackson Lee
Goodbye Wendy Davis and her good emails
And Jef Rouner, who I will still read, and breathless theater critics, who I won’t
Marvelous art scene sliding by on oil money

Goodbye rodeo and the wasted Astrodome
When I heard about the rodeo I joked about children riding goats
Then learned that they actually ride sheep (mutton busting)
Goodbye any opportunity for my hypothetical future children to be thrown from a sheep
Safely, to appreciate animal husbandry from a very specific point of view
The view from the back of a stumpy woolen escapee
Goodbye shiny new light rail that is better than the green line
And tense raids to check fares because there’s no turnstiles
Bus drivers who stop at McDonald’s to get a coffee while the passengers wait
And wave to people they recognize, in case they need a ride
Goodbye well-meaning men who slowed down, genuinely concerned that I was walking
Because no one walks in this neighborhood, something must be wrong

mutton busting

Mutton busting

Shoutout to dog families stopping traffic in East End and Third Ward
The mutt wearing a child’s rugby shirt that chased me on my bike that one time
Migration patterns spectacularly glooming city skies
Grackles with their wide-open beaks in baked parking lots
That scary taco raptor should be the Texas state bird
I’ll stop reaching for the feral cats next door
Pink nose, black nose, mom cat, Mr. Moustache, Mr. Bibs
Bandit cat, dreamy cat, friend cat, basic tabby, feral gray
Running like water in the streets that flood every time it rains
Flashing affection like the stoplights that always go out in a storm

grackles

Grackles on the train platform

Goodbye, aggressive pride in place
So much that the title of this poem is a clothing brand
Goodbye al-fresco dining in winter, crawdads in a kiddie pool in March
Hose flowing in washing out to flat streets, claws waving
Goodbye dead downtown and transcendent queso
Gayborhood where our queer Spanish landlords added “NO HUSTLERS NO PIMPS” to the lease
Farewell ice houses with your basketball hoops and sandy ground, dogs running free
We have actual ice on our houses here

Goodbye Shasta, superior live mascot, and your birthday meat cake
Shotgun houses with backyards, bracing yourselves for developers
You could fit at least two luxury units if you pave over every inch of soil
Goodbye to the normalcy of non-white bosses and non-white spaces
Goodbye phantom of bilingual education
Goodbye blue island in a red cesspool
Hello taxes, my favorite joke to “let the whales marry”

Hello winter I’m not tired of yet
Numb legs and wet leaves, burning torso barreling down the bike lane
I can’t wait for snow, what’s wrong with me? I want it so
I’ll snatch the heat from the downstairs apartment
Let tears of shock stream when the cold air hits
Goodbye streets on a grid, hello architecture

Goodbye meritocracy—big Texas talk
(It’s the best state, just ask a Texan)
An illusion, I know
But a sometimes convincing one. I see your businesses, young women,
Your getting-it-done, putting-it-up
Fuck you, Houston’s awesome
New security, new career
Launch pad to combat gatekeepers here
I’m not the only person who has said so
Back now to close friends and bus routes I still remember
God, it’s good to be back
If I can get through the feeling that I’m not who I was
When I last lived here
It will be very, very good.

Part 2: Houston haunts I will always treasure—not a best-of list, just retracing our most well-tread paths.

Restaurants
Barnaby’s on Fairview, especially for $2 wine/beer night on Tuesdays
BB’s Tex-Orleans Cafe
Torchy’s Tacos (Heights)
Ninja Ramen
Down House
Brasil
Ninfa’s on Navigation
Flakey’s Pizza

Food trucks
Waffle Bus
Moon Rooster Tacos

Bars/Ice Houses
Moon Tower
Lei Low
Poison Girl

Cafés for working
Mercantile Montrose
Ahh! Coffee
EQ Heights

Cafés for eating and getting out
Blacksmith

Café that is more of a vehicle for cat snuggles than coffee
El Gato Cat Café

Cookies and hugs
Crumbville

Arts Organizations
WriteSpace
Houston Scriptwriters
DiverseWorks Gallery

Best haircut
Ciao Salon

Best building sign
Birth & Death Records near the Blood Donation Center

brith & death records

It’s hard to tell, but these letters are sunken into the concrete. Always struck me as weirdly cool and creepy.

Plays (scroll down here)
“The Nether” – Alley Theatre
“The Hunchback Variations” – Catastrophic Theatre
“Intimate Apparel” – University of Houston
“The Judgment of Fools” – Horsehead Theatre Company

Art exhibits
School for the Movement of the Technicolor People
The Propeller Group
The City

Most treasured piece of art acquired
Refresh zine

Best feral cat
Pinknose

pink nose black nose

Pink Nose and Black Nose

Second only because he disappeared/got adopted: Friend cat

friend cat

Friend cat allowed pats, so he *must* have found a home.

Cat I respect most and am most worried about
Dreamy cat, who is looking worse for wear every time he wanders back

dreamy cat

Dreamy cat as I remember him

FY16 Refresh

stop-talking

I removed my blog from joellejameson.com last year, tired of feeling bad about not updating it enough, feeling like I should be trying to write “legitimate” theater reviews for “legitimate” publications where people might “actually read” them.

I’ve decided that now is the time for a low-stakes refresh, the plan being one monthly digest-type review including links to pieces I’ve written, micro-reviews of theater and books, and whatever else has struck me in the past month.

And I do promise it will only be once per month, so you are safe to subscribe (over there on the right side of the page) without being spammed. Have a beautiful FY16!

Image/Martha Rich via The Jealous Curator