Low Country Upstater

It’s always been interesting to me, as long as I’ve lived up North, to pick up on some of the perceptions that folks up here have about folks from my original neck of the woods, way down in the Southernmost tip of South Carolina, as far South as you can be without crossing into Georgia. So let’s get some things straight right up front to avoid any potential awkward exchanges later.

I’m from South Carolina, but I didn’t grow up on a golf course.

I’m from South Carolina, but I don’t much care for “You might be a redneck if . . .” jokes or Larry the Cable Guy.

I’m from South Carolina, but I don’t follow NASCAR.

I’m from South Carolina, but I don’t go home to Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head.

I’m from South Carolina, but I’ve never owned a Confederate Flag, nor condoned the flying of same.

I’m from South Carolina, but I’m not stupid.

The last one’s the one that kinda chaps sometimes. I’ve lived up here and worked in voice-sensitive professions for long enough to have modulated most of my native drawl for the most part (the Low Country South Carolina accent involves moving your jaw as little as humanly possible, because it’s so hot and stewy down there that any extra effort induces sweat), but there are some stock words and phrases that give me away as a “Say . . . you’re not from around here” fellow whenever I utter them, which is often, because there are no suitable Northern words to replace them.

The giveaways?

1. Reckon (“Well, I reckon I’ll be going now.”)

2. Fixin’ (“Well, I’ll be fixin’ to go soon.”)

3. Ain’t (“I ain’t going nowhere.”)

4. Y’all (“Y’all wanna go with me?”)

5. Alla’y’all (“Alla’y’all quit making fun of the way I talk, now, or I reckon I’ll be fixin’ to go alone.”)

(I’ve also recently been informed that my pronunciation of “tomatoes” is laughable, too, but I don’t say that enough to include it in the list).

When those words slip out in conversation with someone who doesn’t know me from up here, I can oftentimes see in their eyes that their assessment of my intelligence drops ten point with each utterance. When that happens, I generally throw some big, fancy, words into the mix, just to compensate: “Well, alla’y’all better get going soon, else I reckon I’m gonna have to heap some obloquy on y’all and objurgate your forebearer’s honor.”

I got this message loud and clear soon after we moved up here, when my daughter was in a school play in elementary school in the North Colonie district. There was a family of characters in her play who were a bit dim-witted and confused. How did the cute l’il tykes demonstrate their relative feebleness to the audience? By speaking with thick Southern accents, of course. Hilarity ensued.

This is why I don’t much care for the whole redneck humor thing that’s big from Peoria to Plattsburgh of late. If you didn’t think a Southern accent made someone stupid before hand, odds are you’re gonna think it once you’ve sat through a Larry the Cable Guy set. It bugs me that that’s what most folks think passes for humor in the deep South. And it bugs me even more to think that that’s what people believe real Southerners are like.

You know what kinds of Southern-bred humor I like? The kinds produced by folks like Stephen Colbert, Amy and David Sedaris, and the late Molly Ivins: smart, sharp, incisive and insightful. It does my heart good to have their words (and voices) heard all around the country, just to let folks know that that you don’t foresake your right to be clever just because you were born and bred down South.

So I’m from South Carolina . . . but I won’t apologize for it.

And I’m happy to make my home here Upstate . . . and I promise I won’t apologize for that either when I go home and my relatives tell me I talk like a Yankee!

So Whaddya Need to Know?

Would it help suck you into my world to have some background? If so, how’s this . . .

I was born in Beaufort, South Carolina forty-something years ago. (I’m old enough that it’s rude to ask for more details). My father was a career Marine Corps officer, and I spent much of my childhood moving between military bases, primarily in the Southeast, but with occassional forays northward (Long Island and Rhode Island) and westward (Kansas). I attended and actually graduated from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis before going on to work for the Naval Reactors program for ten years in Washington DC, Idaho and Schenectady.

That’s how I ended up in this part of the woods, and I have to admit that I came kicking and screaming: Upstate New York was the last place I wanted to live. But, much to my surprise, I actually fell in love with the hereabouts, and left government service in 1996 to go into the nonprofit sector and to pursue some freelance writing and production gigs.

Since leaving the government, I have managed various fundraising, public relations and operations programs for the Albany Institute of History and Art (1996-1997), AIDS Council of Northeastern New York (1997-2000), Doane Stuart School (2000-2002) and the Rensselaer Newman Foundation’s Chapel + Cultural Center, which I’ve directed since fall of 2002. On top of those day jobs, I did a lot of freelance writing, much of it for Metroland, primarily as a music critic. I also hosted, booked and wrote for Time Warner Cable’s Sounding Board music television show.

Last year, I decided that my longterm aspirations might better be served if I got a Master’s Degree, so I enrolled and was accepted at Rockefeller College, at the University at Albany’s downtown campus. It’s been a rewarding process, thus far. I’m learning a lot, and getting some parts of my brain poked that haven’t been utilized in quite some time. It’s amazing how one’s political and policy glands can atrophy without regular stimulation.

As a grad student, I now find myself spending a sizable portion of my sentient hours thinking about college stuff. I am a student at the University at Albany, with student cares and worries. I work on the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, with staff and administration concerns and duties. I have a 16-year old daughter beginning the college admissions process, so I’ve got parental fears and trepidations. Finally, I am the president of my Naval Academy class, so I spent a lot of time mulling alumni responsibilities and obligations.

It’s an interesting balancing act, and I expect that it will provide a decent chunk of my blogging topics here, though I expect that I won’t be able to resist (or want to) the sorts of critical analysis and general cultural snarkiness that have been my public bread and butter for most of the time that I’ve been in this area and market. Plus pictures and even occasional poems (I’m inspired the most by absurdists like Ogden Nash and Edward Lear, so I promise it won’t get too heavy).

Does that help?

Return of the Blogger

Huh . . . will you look at these fancy blogging digs I’m being set up in here? Pretty impressive, if I say so myself, which I can, because I’m not the one who set them up. But, then, that’s pretty much always been the case for me. Some background, for perspective . . .

Back around 1994, when folks first began bolting from CompuServe and Prodigy and AOL to grab their own corners of this crazy new thing called the World Wide Web, a friend of mine asked if he could take a bunch of my print articles and put them on his server, since he was in desperate need of “content” for the hosting service he planned to create.

I said “sure” and ended up with my first website for the price of sending some old school floppy discs to Texas. That site flamed out after a couple years, and another friend took a stab at hosting some of my content, until his interests shifted and I was again homeless, internetedly speaking. As it turns out, I was doing some primitive html’ing for a website at work, so that gave me enough courage to take the leap and go ahead and build my own website: jericsmith.com.

It was a creaky beast, quickly filled with cruft and strange code and weird margins and tables that didn’t quite line up the way I wanted them to. Once I built it, though, and poured all my content into it, I was sort of at a loss for why I was bothering. What was the point of having a website, really?

The answer came to me when a friend from the Xnet2 mailing list forwarded an article (since proven very influential and perceptive) by Rebecca Blood called Weblogs: A History and Perspective. A-ha! They could be diaries, but for other people (mostly strangers) to read! Hooray! I quickly cobbled together an awful html template for my website, and began blogging within days. After about a year of wrestling with my cranky homemade code, I finally switched to one of the standard online blogging applications, and completely replaced my old website with the same. It was easy sailing from there forward.

I blogged like a champ for about six years. In 2004, I wrote and published a poem a day, for 366 days. I wrote some essays and became the King of Bad Bands. (Want proof? Go to Google and search for “worst band ever” or any other similar phrase . . . I’ll all but guarantee you that the first link you get will take you to my website). But then, like many things, it sorta started to get stale: I was pulling 40,000 hits a month, but I didn’t feel like tapdancing to entertain the visitors anymore. I finally decided to close the blog down entirely when I was accepted for a Master’s of Public Affairs and Policy Program at Rockefeller College last spring. It seemed the prudent choice.

But the itch to write something other than policy memos remained. I posted stuff on some message boards. I wrote long e-mails about all sorts of things, but none of those outlets offered that somewhat thrilling sense of having everything flapping in the electronic wind in real time, never quite knowing where it was gonna blow, or who was gonna pick it up and run away with it.

So I’m back, but in shiny new blogging digs, keeping blog-company with some people I know and some people who are as new to me as I might be to you. I’ll offer a little more background and perspective on the who-what-why-where-when’s in the next post, and look forward to interacting with old friends and new readers as I get back to thinking out loud in public, the way I like to do it best.