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 café 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.

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