Friday, February 27, 2004

The new philosophy

in three main parts

1) For me, the whole world boils down to this:

What will you do, and refuse to do, to please the people you love?

Anyway. So.

2)My biology will eventually undo all my ambition.

My job is so stressful that at the end of every week I can't believe I made it through again, and every Monday I sort of have this heaving feeling of: "Well, here I go. I can do this. I can make a difference. I just have to make it through another week."

And, miracles of miracles, four days later it's Friday, and I'm free.

My feminist philosophy is constantly undermined by the never-ending references to women who have left my field to be full time moms, and the sick, nauseous feeling I get whenever I realise that the second I get pregnant, I too am doomed to leave my rewarding, demanding, stressful job for a much more rewarding life...where someone will throw up on me daily and I'll lack financial independance. I want this more than anything else in the world, like some sick invention of William Moulton-Marston, a woman wanting to be free by asking for more imprisonment.

3)I am done with snow. Forever.

We got our once a year snow here in Atlanta this week. You could see the grass sticking up through it but that didn't stop the little kids who live all around me from trying to sled. Out in the park they ran their little plastic discs up and down the hillside. But the friction and wieght of their sleds melted the thin crust of pricipitation, meaning that after their fun the hillside was nothing but a mess of muddy streaks by early afternoon.

I resented even this thin crust of snow despite the joy that it brought so many others, which led me to realise: I really am never going to move. So no big appointement to NARA for me, no on to the Smithsonian or back to Harvard or even away to UCLA. I really love Atlanta, and the South. My own native cell structure has undermined me.

And the sick thing is, I don't even mind.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

The truth is, I'm just impatient and a little greedy.

In the past six weeks I’ve had visits from Jeff, The Republican, Devon, Kati and Michael. And every single time one of my friends was in Atlanta to hang out, it was bitterly cold. I’m not lying about the nice weather; it’s 65 degrees today and we’ll get even warmer tomorrow. I feel so bad that it was cold when all of these people visited. Kati and Michael especially suffered; after long dark months in Chicago, they came to town just last weekend…right in the middle of the coldest temperatures Atlanta’s likely to have all year.

I didn’t get to hang with Kati and Michael as much as I would have liked, but then they were busy on a working retreat. They were also a good hour away from me, out near Stone Mountain. But I did get one fun Monday night in the Waffle House with Kati and Michael. Michael, as usual, did not eat. He sipped hot chocolate while Kati had pie and I ate dinner. I was exhausted beyond all belief after a week in South Carolina and a not-up-for-discussion trip to Nashville.

Kati and Michael look great. They were rested and Michael had changed, you could see it in his eyes and posture. He has some facial hair now, which fosters the type of look you expect from new professors trying to look older than their students. It works on him. Kati looked well but starved for the familiar. I wanted to put her in my rental car and drive her away from her current job for a bit. She was squirrelly like I am when I need to go on a long walk away from everything for awhile.

We couldn’t talk as long as I’d like, but we talked as long as I could without falling asleep in the Stone Mountain Waffle House. And that had to be enough. I am still pissed that my Christmas presents to them have been lost in the mail, because I put a lot of thought into their boxes and now those boxes are just gone, disappeared into the US mail system’s crazy maze of lost things. That or a postal carrier somewhere is having a little party with chocolates, Garam Marsala, pesto sauce, star anise and herbal teas.

We gossiped about as much as we could. Kati asked about Devon, Michael asked after The Republican. I need to go to Chicago. I also need to go to Boston, but Aral has a problem with e-mailing me back, so I suppose Chicago might be up first. Unless Aral needs help moving, in which case I’m off to Boston. I don’t know. I should buy lots of plane tickets: one for Skeet to get here from Nashville for his birthday, one for me to visit Chicago, one for my sister to Savannah, one for me to visit my aunt in Texas, one for my Grandmother to come visit, and then…I could give all the frequent flyer miles to The Republican. Because I am now an addict when it comes to The Republican’s attentions.

Love is another addiction, just like the copper-gold box of dark chocolates he gave me for Valentine’s day, or the monster shows we watched Sunday, curled in his living room under warm blankets. For Lent, I’m giving up on half my phone calls to him. Calling The Republican is like drinking; I want to do it, and it might make me a little giddy, but afterwards there’s a hollow knawing on my insides. I shouldn’t have. This is too much. I can’t handle the way this makes me feel. I don’t know how to deal. I hate dating more than anything in the entire world, and the only thing worse than dating is not dating at all. The masculine objects of my true affections always tear me up in a million little ways. This is at least the fourth time I’ve been through this; you’d think I’d learn by now. But I never do. I can’t help myself. They just…smell good. And now I’m off on a tangent.

The truth is, I need Spring. I need it more than anything in the whole world. So I called up Dust, who is the vernal equinox boy, and demanded he get on with it all ready. He sighed at me the way he does when I’m being unreasonable.

“Look, I’m working on it, OK? I figure if I concentrate real hard for the next four weeks, then it’ll be ready.”

That’s not soon enough. I want Spring and I want it NOW.

“Well, you’ll just have to wait.”

He was positively intractable on the point. The next four weeks will pass like syrup for me, as I wait and wait for the ice to break, for the sun to shine on me full time, for the bulbs to show me what they’ve been working on all year. This is torture.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Southern Gothic

“I have issues about reservations.” – Dustin Collins, 2/10/2004

I’m writing this blog update from a Holiday Inn room in Columbia, South Carolina. Traveling in South Carolina is a little like going on a time travel trip to 5 or 10 years ago. It’s comfortable and familiar and you keep being reminded of the not so distant past.

I like South Carolina, even in February when the landscape is all greys and browns and the beige of dead grass with touches of purple and dark red laying in wait for the spring. This is my third trip down into the river valley where I was born since I moved back to the South a year and a half ago. I love looking at the land along the Savannah River, because it triggers so many familiar and pleasant memories. The Savannah River valley makes me listen to 70’s rock music and drink loads of tea. These are good things.

Of course, there are bad things here too; the dome of the South Carolina State house, just blocks from here, is thick with rust and pollution. The conservation lab of a place I visited today lies empty and idle after all its workers were laid off in the past few years. The class I’m here to teach is less than half full, because public librarians in South Carolina are some of the lowest paid in the nation.

There was a man outside the post office today, and he wore a paper crown covered in gold foil, a flowing robe, and stood next to an ancient hospital wheelchair that proudly flew the flag of the American Revolution. Around his neck he had a colorful hand lettered sign that I found difficult to read, but the gist of which was that since slaves built this nation it rightfully belonged to their descendants. Weather the man was a performance artist or just plain crazy was difficult for me to discern.

Devon visited me in Atlanta last weekend, and I took her around Little 5. While we were at the comic book store, my friendly comic book guy asked us to list the elements of Southern Gothic for him. He said he was writing a post-apocalyptic scenario, but wanted to incorporate the Southern Gothic form. Devon and I came up with this list and more:

Unstated incest (preferably brother/sister)
Dark and stormy nights
Class disparity
Graveyard scenes
The war/the lost cause

Comic book guy, who is far from anglo-saxon, wrinkled his nose. “The War? Why? Ick.”

“I’m sorry, but you can’t have a Southern Gothic theme without the war. Them’s the rules.”

Devon nodded. Later that day she tries on an $80 pirate shirt that looked fabulous, along with several black stretchy things. For fun, she laces me into a boustiere. She explains properly clunky boots to me. Devon is modern Southern Gothic.

We talked in a cafĂ© about our common lost cause, about our lack of motivation. We are fighting the new war against ourselves, not with guns or slaves but with happiness and hormone control and men who love us and how much that costs. It costs a lot, success-wise. I fear we are the new lost cause. We have been defeated by crosswise purposes, our craving for artistic success subsumed by our need to be loved – and our ability to let people love us. Maybe I was better miserable, I say.

We can overcome this, she says, but doesn’t buy any of the black club gear that fits her so well. She has a family now. She has better things to do with $80.