Today’s beer: Fin du Monde*
Today’s book: Pogo (volume 1): Through the Wild Blue Yonder by Walt Kelly
Today’s music: R.E.M., Document (1987)
Today’s food: Strawberries, picked fresh from Washington Farms, Watkinsville, GA
For Kaelin Broaddus, who got me bending over to pick strawberries on a Saturday morning,
And for Bec Norton, who keeps cracking the whip for me to write these things
I like Herriman’s Krazy Kat, I admire Schulz’s Peanuts, I adore Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes and Breathed’s Bloom County, I enjoy Trudeau’s Doonesbury. Sure. But I revere Walt Kelly’s Pogo. I love everything about the strip—The jazziness of his line, the vibrancy of his dialects (so different from character to character, and yet so unerringly true to each), the richness of his characterization, his unnerving way of mixing cute whimsy with serious politics, the fact that he was so flat-out funny for 25 years everyday, how I can appreciate the sheer beauty of animal motion and environment in his every panel. I’m going through it because I’m giving a lecture on “Comics and the South,” tag-teaming with Brannon Costello, on Tuesday, and Kelly’s work of art is central to the notion of the lecture. Oddly, Pogo won’t be a big part of my lecture, simply because if I start babbling about Kelly’s masterpiece, I’ll end up just proclaiming my love of it for 30 minutes, and that’s no good for anybody. Kelly evokes a place (Okefenokee Swamp, FL), a community (Pogo and his assorted friends, scamps, and ne’er-do-wells), and a country (America) so vividly and concretely that all I can do is applaud. And I don’t wanna clap out loud for 30 minutes in front of a roomful of folks who paid to hear me make sense of an overly big and hard-to-digest topic. Place is central to Kelly—how it looks, how it affects us, how those in it talk. Due to Wendell Berry, growing up to be less of a fuckup, Walt Kelly, Gary Snyder, and a whole bunch of other things, I’ve become more interested in knowing about the place in which I live, and interacting with it. That’s why I ended up, this morning, picking strawberries out at Washington Farms, in Watkinsville. It’s a classic small town, with a square (of sorts), boutique shops, a small farmer’s market, and hipsters looking to raid the place for signs of authenticity of a gorgeous Spring day. Washington Farms has a good deal… for Washington Farms. Twelve bucks gets you a bucket of strawberries that you pick yourself, which means that you’re driving out to the farm and then paying it for the privilege of doing its labor for it, at a price per pound that’s roughly twice the markup of a grocery store’s. Ah, capitalism. But, hey, capitalism’s a model that has maybe spent its course. And Berry (and John Elder, and Snyder, and Marilynne Robinson, and Toni Morrison, and Armistead Maupin, and every writer who gives us a rich sense of where they live and love) keep teaching that affection—loving one’s place and place, getting to know them well enough to respect and honor them—is a better model than the smash-and-grab system we’ve got now. Kelly’s got that sense of homegrown affection-turned-progressivism, too. What makes the affection endearing instead of cloying is the clear joy he gets from evoking it, the moonshine humor and sexy glow of it dancing on the page. I’m trying to tap into that. Aren’t we all? So I popped my knees, paid too much for four pounds of strawberries, and made ‘em into homemade strawberry ice cream and strawberry-banana smoothies because I want to—need to—honor where I live, how I live, and the people around me who make it all possible. I need to do that with humor, humility, some sense of unearned grace, and a willingness to plunge into the immediate world around me. R.E.M. sings “it’s the end of the world as we know it,” and I suppose it always is, for every second part of life disappears while another part comes forth. Cardinals, robins, and brown thrashers swirl in song all around me as I write on this screened-in porch, and that moment won’t come again, not exactly like it’s happening now. It’s a gorgeous moment, and then it’s gone. But remember the rest of R.E.M.’s chorus—“and I feel fine.” I try to keep that in mind, too, as my back gently aches from too many bendovers, as my head reminds me to keep trying to make life better than fine—for me, okay, but also for those who have to live with me.
* I can’t believe I’ve lived in Athens, GA, for over a year without making a lame R.E.M. joke on this blog. So, here you go. It’s a great beer, by the way.