Blog Post

La Loba, the bone collector, tweets!

On March 23, for no reason other than that something inside me had been nagging, I launched a Twitter campaign. I began a project to tweet each day a single name of a person on the Register of Freedmen, the 1862/3 document I several months ago published to the Internet. Having moved forward on the Twitter campaign largely on instinct, I have no definite set of objectives though in the act of speaking these nineteenth century persons into the twenty-first century some sense of purpose has begun to form.

My willingness, in this case, to move on instinct brought to mind a book about ten years ago given to me by a very dear friend who has since passed. The book, Women Who Run With the Wolves, is by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, a Jungian analyst. Though I must admit to not having read the book in its entirety, from the sections of the book I have completed, Estes's position and her project are clear to me. She introduces a mainstream audience to the Wild Woman archetype, or she revives the archetype for the potential psychic healing of modern women. For Pinkola, Wild Woman may represent a challenge to the over-civilized woman or to the idea of and process of civilization itself. For this analyst, civilization buries woman's instinctual nature. Although Estes's theory may not be completely unique, I am excited about its possible relevance for activism in cyberspace--for blogging and tweeting, as movement between temporal and spatial spheres.

Estes introduces readers to La Loba, who may be known, among other ways, as the Wolf Woman, or as a bone collector. La Loba is "wild," yes, and she sings over bones, effecting their regeneration. In theory, La Loba is also the place of a woman's psyche, where the bones of her youth and other earlier times in her earth walk are scattered, drying, and seemingly dead. Rejuvenation of a woman's past lives or former selves requires gathering or singing over her own bones. According to Estes, a woman can do this work through interpretation of her dreams, through storytelling, or through most any art. These are processes by which a woman can become reacquainted with her soul.

I wonder if tweeting and blogging don't lend themselves perfectly to the kind of regathering of the pieces of the soul, its bones, that Estes is talking about, lend themselves because they beckon would-be writers, who don't have the time or who do not want to wait for the years it takes for traditional publication. Tweeting and blogging perhaps lend themselves to bone collecting because one does not have to wait for approval or fit one's thoughts to a market.

The nation has entered into its first year of commemoration of the Civil War, yet most Americans are not involved in any of the planned activities of this Sesquicentennial. Most in fact know nothing of the committees formed in just about every state for just this purpose. And even with all of the organizing that has been going on around this observance there may be, in the end, only a token representation on conference agendas themes and issues most relevant to descendants of American slaves, though many if not most historians appear to be on board with the idea that The Peculiar Institution was in fact what "the cruel war was about" (Manning). And after 2015, the nation will likely go about its business as usual unless some sort of wrinkle gets created through this process of commemoration and memorialization.

For me, gathering the bones of my own soul also requires singing over the bones of others including former slaves, memory of whom has not heretofore fit our American economy. A good example of history or memory not fitting economy is the yet untold literal and figurative covering of bones in the case of President's Island, site of a contraband camp and radical agricultural experiment of educator and clergyman John Eaton, Jr. The story of this particular camp is without a doubt buried deeply within the culture of the city of Memphis, below which the island is located. Although there is a marker off Interstate 55 directing drivers to the island, the site is today an industrial park, home to Cargill, among other large corporations. Nowhere in the park is there mention of the thousands of freedmen who lived and died there.

Recently, however, Mark Scott, a history teacher at East High School in Memphis embarked upon a project to save what is likely a twentieth-century structure from the island, a one-room schoolhouse. The building, which for many years has been located at the fairgrounds, may be moved to the East High campus. Scott's class has created a blog where they affirm the importance of the structure to Memphis' history and where they also publish an oral history project, interviews with blacks who attended the school as late as the early '60s. Scott and his students are singing over the bones of the teachers, students, and other residents of the island, and also of a history--bones that had been left to dry.

The consequences are perhaps the same for any history left untold. Scott is to be praised for giving new life to the institution of the one-room school house, to the experiences of Memphians who attended school on the island, and to the former life of the island itself. I have left comment on this project's blog. As pleased as I am about the recognition of this layer of history I am hopeful that the twentieth-century history will prepare residents of Memphis for the earlier, nineteenth-century, history. Actually, if I had my druthers, the school would be moved back onto the island, and a growing number of interested persons would organize to have a marker, recognizing the site's ties to the Civil War and emancipation, written in stone. I understand that many developments have had to be achieved, Scott's project being a recent one, to get to the point that this possibility might become reality.

My own work of course parallels that of Scott and his history students. From the "place" of Wild Woman barriers of time are transcended; they do not even exist. The one hundred and forty eight years or so since President's Island was a freedmen's camp seem to Wild Woman but a day. This may mean that actual people buried within that land--my own second great grandmother one of them--have been waiting quite patiently, knowing and trusting that memory of them would one day be sung back. In my tweeting this week, I had very few pieces of information to share, only what was available in the thus far transcribed record--name, owner, and age--yet this may be enough to summon other would-be bone collectors, other storytellers. With each tweeted name, the collective psyche of African Americans and all Americans promises to be rejuvenated. Estes writes, "That is when the rib bones and leg bones of the wolf begin to flesh out and the creature becomes furred. La Loba sings some more, and more of the creature comes into being."

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