Writing Prompt: “Between Elizabeth Cotten and Connie Converse” by Rindon Johnson

Dear Writer-Reader,  

In Elizabeth Cotton’s folk dream balad, “Shake Sugaree,” she lists everything in her life that she has pawned away. “Pawned everything that was in my sight.” She shakes sugaree because “Everything I got is done and pawned.” She shakes but she also knows that by letting go of so much of her life that she’s “going to heaven in a brown pea shell.” Small, earthen, upward. Eyes back on the ground, had to pawn those things for a reason. She doesn’t say but it doesn’t matter, we know what she means. What are all your things that you are going to pawn away? 

In Connie Converse’s equally dreamy folk ballad, “Talkin' Like You (Two Tall Mountains),” she describes a place they call lonesome, a place where she isn’t lonesome. She animates her fellow living creatures, the river, the world around her, they all talk like us, or the you she’s speaking to in the song. “I don’t stand in the need of company with everything I see talking like you…. You may think you left me all alone but I can hear you talk without a telephone.” Who-what do you hear in your place they call lonesome?  

Before her disappearance Converse wrote to her family: "Let me go. Let me be if I can. Let me not be if I can’t. [...] Human society fascinates me & awes me & fills me with grief & joy; I just can't find my place to plug into it." In the spirit of finding new ways to plug, in the spirit of letting go, please somehow, fit together the things you’re going to pawn and all the voices you can hear without a telephone. 


About the author

Rindon Johnson is an artist and writer. His most recent virtual reality film, Meat Growers: A Love Story, was commissioned by Rhizome and Tentacular. Johnson has read, exhibited, and lectured internationally. He is the author of Nobody Sleeps Better Than White People (Inpatient, 2016), the VR book, Meet in the Corner (Publishing-House.Me, 2017) and Shade the King (Capricious, 2017). He lives in Berlin where he is an Associate Fellow at the Universität der Künste Berlin; he studies VR.


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