Packing, worrying, repacking, more worrying — do I have everything? Am I taking too much? Travel anxiety takes so many forms. I posted about it here a few years ago and was surprised and heartened to hear from so many of you who also suffer from it. (So thank you for sharing that.) This time I’m not going far, I’m not going for very long, and I’m going with one of my favorite traveling companions, my buddy Monty. Nevertheless, I’m a bundle of nerves. It’s manifesting this time as a fear that I won’t actually get a visa at the airport and they won’t let me on the plane. Why is this an issue?
Because I’m going to Cuba!
Christmas Day to New Year’s Day. Monty has relatives there — his mother was Cuban. He, and JetBlue, say it’ll be no problem, I’m going to do professional research, to see if there’s a book in Havana for me to write. But until I’m on the plane, I don’t quite buy it.
If it all does go right, I’ll be basically out of touch except for once a day, when we can get online in one of the hotels if we want. So if you don’t hear from me for a week or so, that’s a good sign. If I can get online I’ll try to post photos, but anyway you know I’ll be taking them by the boatload.
I don’t have any of Cuba yet, though, so I leave you with this, one of my personal favorites from Mongolia. Peace, joy, and productivity to you all in 2020. May you always have new roads to travel, and may you travel them no matter how anxious you are.
Here’s a link to me running my mouth on WCBS Radio on the subject of CUTTING EDGE, a terrific new collection of noir stories by women, edited by Joyce Carol Oates.
CUTTING EDGE on WCBS
Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, and Whew Wotta Relief Wednesday have all come and gone. Now it’s Thus We Continue Thursday, and thus we continue:
Here are your 2020 SJ Rozan Calendars!
First, your COLORS Calendar. Photos I’ve shot over the year of things where the colors interested me.
2020 Colors Calendar
And second — though don’t tell her — your BELLA THE CAT Calendar. In case you’re a Bella fan, and who isn’t?
2020 Bella the Cat Calendar
I’m not sure selling these calendars will put me in the BLACK. But as a writer I’m the smallest of SMALL BUSINESSES. You can buy them in CYBERSPACE and GIVE them to your friends and just think WOTTA RELIEF it will be to have your holiday shopping done!
Bella the Cat and I thank you.
Write On, Mississippi is a podcast on which I appear as Chapter 12. Click the link to hear me hem and haw. Unless they edited it out, I apologize in advance to the unflappable Eric Stone for referring to him as “Eric Smith.” I’d been thinking about Lydia Chin and Bill Smith and I was, you know, on the radio, and if you don’t make a big screw-up while you’re on the radio you got nuthin. This was recorded in advance of the Mississippi Book Festival in Jackson on Aug 17, at which I will be. I tried to steal their photo of me for here, but I couldn’t, so here’s one of me relaxing with Craig and Karina Buck on our B&B porch in Natchez. And if you think getting that phone to balance on the railing while Craig set the timer, ran back and sat down was easy, well, bless your heart.
Here we have the gate to the first Chinese Cemetery in Greenville, MS, the existence of which got me started down the rabbit hole of the entire history of the Chinese of the Mississippi Delta. This cemetery was founded in 1913. In 1931 a second cemetery was begun when it became clear the needs of the growing Chinese Delta community would soon outpace this one. This one, however, was still receiving new occupants in family plots as late as the 1990’s.
The gate is kept locked, but security is not tight. I myself found it simple to sneak in. It’s a Chinese tradition to offer food and drink to the deceased. As you can see, even the older graves are still well-tended.
PAPER SON comes out today! On the shelves at your local indie — or if not, they can get it stat. Or you can order it to wing your way, or download it on your e-reader or for audio. If you pre-ordered, thanks and you probably have it in your hot little hands, or ringing in your ears, by now. To celebrate: Party at Red’s!
Red’s Juke Joint, Clarksdale, MS. Photo, me.
The Chinese of the Mississippi Delta had their own schools. Why, you ask? This is the US of A, we have public schools. Ah, but this is Mississippi — a phrase Lydia Chin learns well in PAPER SON. In Mississippi, right up until Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 — and, in a complicated way, beyond it — schools were tightly segregated.
In 1927, long before Brown, the Supreme Court heard and decided the case of Lum v. Rice. Lum argued that a young Chinese girl should be allowed in the white schools, having been “incorrectly classified” as “colored” under Mississippi’s Jim Crow laws. A generation later, Brown argued that separate was intrinsically unequal; but Lum didn’t, only that, essentially, Chinese weren’t “colored.” The Supreme Court said Mississippi was entitled to define “colored” any way it saw fit.
So the Chinese of the Delta, seeing the kind of education to which black children were condemned, founded, opened, and ran their own schools.
And the Lums moved to Arkansas, just across the river, where Chinese kids were allowed in white schools.
Chinese school, 1938
photo link: https://bit.ly/2ZVfc4H
This monument at Highways 40 and 61 in Clarksdale MS (where PAPER SON is set) marks the crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil for the ability to play the blues.
Or maybe it was a different crossroads, a little distance from here.
Or maybe, as some legends say, it was a graveyard.
And speaking of graveyards, when Johnson died of poison, or syphilis, or Marfan syndrome, he was buried in Morgan City MS, or Quito MS, or Greenwood MS. Or a Potter’s Field near the Dockery Plantation, where he died.
In other words, little is known for sure about the guy. Except he could sing and play like the Devil himself.
Herewith, a cotton gin, near Clarksdale MS (where PAPER SON is largely set) in 1939. What does a cotton gin do? It gins cotton. No, seriously, it separates the seeds out from a boll of cotton. Why is it called a “gin?” I dunno. Can someone help?
But here’s the thing about the cotton gin: its creation invoked, in a big way, the Law of Unintended Consequences. Once it was invented (by a Northerner just solving a mechanical problem, or so he thought), human, meaning slave, labor was not needed for the time-consuming task of seed removal. That allowed cotton to become a profitable crop — more profitable than rice or anything else. In truth very little grown on Southern plantations would have been profitable without an endless supply of free, meaning slave, labor. (An interesting contradiction in terms, that, no?) But cotton was more marginal than most crops, until the gin. Then it became a good deal less marginal. The South rapidly moved to near-monoculture, and slavery became the foundation on which that rested. Any nascent anti-slavery movements were nipped in the boll, until finally the Civil War.
Always, always, follow the money.
If you’re like me and this is the first you’re hearing of the 100-year-old Chinese community in the Mississippi Delta — don’t be a wise guy, the community is 100 years old, not the people — you’re probably scratching your head and saying, “Wha?” When I was told about them that was my reaction. So I researched, and the more I learned, the more fascinated I became. What brought Chinese people to the Mississippi Delta? Not gonna tell, but you’ll find out if you read PAPER SON. (See what I did there?) But I’ll give you a hint. This photo is of a Chinese-owned grocery store in Greenville, MS. Check out the clientele hanging around outside.
image credit: https://bit.ly/2WNay6S