Friday, June 24, 2005

The end of June

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

I have no idea what "I broke the power law means, mind you, but it was one of the available graphics offered as a "prize" at the end of the MIT blogging survey, so I took it. I hope some of my blogging friends take this too.

Last weekend I happened to be in the car with my old friend Virgil drving across east Tennessee to Ford's wedding shower. He asked me about my blog, of which I know him to be a semi-occasional reader. "So how many people read that thing?"

I told him - it's easy to see, really, with the sitemeter at the bottom of the page. I love blogging, and I don't know that I'll ever be able to stop. We talked about the internet in general, and about my publishing. I haven't had any creative writing published since I've moved to Atlanta. There hasn't been time, what with getting the life in order and managing the job that eats all my energy. I miss publishing creative writing. I look forward to getting back to that, now that things are getting a bit more settled at home and I plan on switching jobs.

But blogging will always be here for me as instant self publishing. It's a bit masturabatory, I know, but people do enjoy reading blogs and I do enjoy writing this one. So I'm not going to stop any time soon, although I contemplated it last fall. This is part of my routine now, this is how I keep the constant flow of words in my head somehow still flowing, somehow still a little bit useful. If I don't keep up my creative outlets, I get all backed up in my mind and grouchy. When people ask me "How can you write all the time?" I have always replied "How can you not? In September, I will have been blogging for six years. This is part of who I am now.

At work we had a meeting not too long ago where the HR officer, looking rather uncomfortable, let us know that the company did read our blogs from time to time. I didn't feel bad about this. I've never named who I work for, and I doubt anyone who reads this cares very much, as few of my posts mention work and when they do it's never anything terribly important. Most of my readers are friends, or friends of friends, or people who stumble in, read around for a few days, and then dissapear into the internet ether rarely to be seen again. And that's fine with me. I won't be made to feel like I should be guilty or worried about Blogging because big brother or work might be watching. Of course they're watching. I invited them too. That's the point - I am here, I am writing, I am expressing myself and I can get feedback on style. I can tell what tone and events interest other people. I am expressing myself and learning from that expression what is best recieved, what my friends are interested in.

The survey from MIT is mostly about the social dynamics of blogging. I'll be interested to hear what the survey has to say. I won't take it too seriously though. The internet - we don't really know what it is yet, we don't even have the words to explain how it is altering our social connections.

When I occasionally hear the topic of blogs come up with people who don't understand them ("Blogs? Those internet diary thingies? Hah!")*, I always marvel at their incomprehension. You write things, and people read them. But it's not really a form of publishing as they understand it. This is nothing that they've ever delt with before. And the idea that I would write about my life - my adventures, my alcholic dad, my daily pitfalls and successes as I struggle to find a stable, secure life - the idea that I would write about these things confuses them. Why would I share? Who would read it, and who would care?

I consider myself late to the blogging game, as several of my friends had blogs a year or two before I did. I find it strange that blogs have been around for so long and only this year the president of the American Library Association felt compelled to notice them. When he did notice "the blog people", he called them shallow and inconsequential in so many words. He had just noticed blogs, you see, and some had said unflattering things about him. He struck out in blind anger, like a child. He came out looking rather foolish in the eyes of many people my age. I don't go to ALA. I'm a member of SAA. I don't know that I'll be joining ALA any time soon. It might be a few year before there are people in power who understand how much the internet has changed the social dynamics of communication, self expression, and publishing.

I share my life here on this blog because I am compelled to write. People read because they are interested. I make no claim to be extra interesting or even a better than average writer. But this page exists. I enjoy keeping it up, and other people enjoy reading it, so why not keep on? This is a different kind of communication.

*Direct quote from authority figure, upon hearing that I had won an award for blogging.

Monday, June 13, 2005

The MLK Memorial

Last Saturday I took my youngest sister Abby down to see the MLK end of Freedom Park. Abby had requested a chance to see the MLK memorial because she just completed sixth grade, and in sixth grade at her school they study the civil rights movement and so this year she is Very Up On That. Since I live within walking distance of where MLK was born and buried, Abby was excited to see the historic site.

I wanted to see the MLK grounds too. Not just because I love history, and Georgia history in particular, but out of professional curiosity I was interested in the MLK site. No such elaborate memorial existed when I was growing up; the memories and wounds of desegregation were too fresh then, matters still left too unsettled. We still have segregated proms here in some rural parts of the state. The MLK National Park site went up in the early 1990's as the city ramped up for the 1996 Olympics. Visitors from overseas would expect a memorial, and the Kennedy Library on the Massachusetts shore had just opened and - if JFK got such a place, shouldn't Martin? Of course he should.

But MLK's family has long been known to be disagreeable. The National Park Service took charge of a visitor center and refurbished the King birthplace, but MLK's family refused to donate important papers or the gravesite to National care. The King family said that they could not bare to have the gravesite be taken care of by the government that killed their patriarch. In truth, the family was used to using the gravesite as well as rights to King's papers as their personal piggy banks. The extent of their theft is unknown, but it was disclosed earlier this year in the Atlanta Journal-constitution that King's family pays themselves exorbitant six figure salaries while the gravesite and the buildings around it go unrepaired. Had the gravesite been annexed into federal park grounds, no such thing would have happened. I've never heard of a park ranger, no matter how long they have been with the service, being paid six figures. It's unheard of.

Before we went to see the park and birth home, Abby got a taste of Traditonal Southern opinion at my breakfast table. The husband would not go with us to the park. He believes MLK's role in history to be exaggerated, and MLK himself to be a shady character who has ended up a saint only via his martyrdom. Sometimes it's easy to forget that my husband was raised by parents the age of my grandparents, but then words like that fall out of his mouth and I remember that his parents would have been vehemently against desegregation, while I was raised by parents 15 years younger who of course think that MLK was a Really Neat Guy. The husband isn't racist - at least not in the way that his parents were - in fact, one of his college roomies was black. But scratch the surface and all those beliefs he grew up with are still there.

Abby was horrified to hear these opinions of her new brother-in-law. Not like MLK? How could you not like MLK? she asked on our way there. I explained as best I could that the civil rights movement was made up of hundreds of different people, and some of them - Thurgood Marshall, for instance - probably did more than MLK to advance the cause of a more egalitarian society. But, I pointed out, MLK's death had been such a horrifying act that he became a symbol for the whole movement. His death changed opinions, his death pushed a divided society the half that believed in segregation and the half that didn't - together for a few moments. And we all changed.

Of course MLK cheated on his wife. He attracted media attention because of his incredible good looks and his amazing ability as a speaker. MLK was made for television, and the National Park site plays on that. When you go there - and you should - you'll see a dozen or so multimedia exhibits that try to explain the civil rights movement and MLK's place within that phase of American politics. All I could think of when I saw all the exhibits about protest politics was : Once upon a time that worked. Once upon a time 40 or 50 thousand people could march and effect change.... How much we have changed. The police know how to deal with protesters these days. If MLK had encountered modern police protest tactics, would he have prevailed?

What Abby and I liked most about the National Park site was the section of Auburn Avenue that the park service has restored, including the King birth home. Dr. King was a son of privaledge, and his house reflects that. But walking through his house and hearing stories of his family made him seem more like a rounded person to me. here is where a little boy hid to get out of doing the dishes. Later he grew up to be an amazing orator, and made the world a better place.

There were hundreds of people who helped bring down segregation. Is it fair to give MLK the defacto sainthood for this cause? Of course it's fair. It is always the orators with fabulous charisma who history remembers best. MLK is sainted worldwide by now, no matter what the generation who disagreed with him says. Thomas Jefferson had his children as slaves, and no one now blinks an eye; so too will go MLK's business dealings and affairs, along with the incompetency of his heirs. My husband will be the last of his line to be infected with sympathy for segregation, for our children will grow up to ask as my sister did, "So what, exactly, was segregation?"

Monday, June 06, 2005

Pain, Dark, and Light (eventually)

I woke up last night around 2 in the morning with a full-on panic attack. Have you ever had one? For me, panic attacks are a searing pressure and pain in my upper left chest, right over my heart. I woke up, gasped, and tried to concentrate on the comforting feeling of my husband's skin next to me in our bed. I took deep breaths. I concentrated on not going to the bathroom and emptying the contents of my stomach, which is what I usually do when I get this stressed out. I haven't thrown up from stress since January. The husband is so good for me - if I think about how comforting he is, I can calm down. If I just take a lot of deep breaths and think about how wonderful my life actually is, I can calm down. When I remember that I have people who love me, and a house now, and dental care, and a refridgerator full of groceries, and solid transportation, and comics all organized - I can calm down. I petted my husband, and he rolled over and kissed me and fell all unconcious again.

Eventually the dawn started to peek around the curtains, and I fell asleep again.

I know why I had the panic attack. The surface (micro) reason would be that I'm taking half a day off of work today even thoiugh I was out for two days last week, and I have loads of work to do, and I *need* to be at work this week. The deeper reason (macro) would be that I spent Sunday in Augusta, and had some dealings with my father's family, and, at a distance, my father. I haven't written publicly about any of that for a long time because people who know me know how bad everything has been and I haven't felt the need to broadcast details. I have been told that whenever you blog, you should pretend that you're yelling whatever you say from the top of a high mountain, and that everyone - everyone can hear you.

So let me yell this from the top of my small mountain: last night before bedtime I got a call from Nashville. Neighbors at my parent's old house had called my mom to tell her that my father's dog was at their door, smelly and hungry and confused. When my parents split last year, they split the house too, and that was sold two months ago. When the house was sold, my father simply turned his dog loose in the neighborhood. God knows what he did to her to get her to run from him, because that dog never ran, but only loved to be petted and to sleep in his garage when the weather was bad. The dog must have been confused and sad - the children had left, and now so had dad, and the garage that she lived in and next to for so long was closed up or had all of her favorite things missing. Cold, and hungry, I imagine she ate garbage for a while before just sitting on the neighbor's porch, afraid and howling. There would have been no clean water, nor the dog house that my sisters decorated with old doll blankets. Her chew toys had probably been thrown away when the new owner cleaned the yard.

She was abandoned. My mother cried when the neighbors called her, and then had to try and find my teenage sister, who was out with friends and had the car. I suppose Sara today will try to help dad's dog. We have a friend of the family who works at a no-kill shelter who could have taken the dog months ago - but no, no, dad did this, dad abused the dog.

My father is an alcoholic. He has been one all my life, but only in the past few years has his slow slide down been accelerated, bringing him faster and closer to permanent brain damage and losing everyone, everything. It's all gone - he threw everything away. His marriage, his kids, and even his dog. Even his car was taken away a few weeks ago. His health, his teeth are slipping. I don't know how much longer it will be until he dies. People can live for years like that, rolling, tumbling down a mountainside of addiction and pain that they thow out to everyone around them.

I went to Augusta Sunday and saw my father's mother, and a cousin who happened to be seeing her at the same time. We did not talk of my father. I did not see any other members of my father's family. No one wants to talk about anything, no one wants to face the truth. There is nothing I can do, or say.

Eventually things will get better - for myself, for my sisters, for my mother. There is pain in the darkness, but eventually, if you wait in the dark long enough and remember that everything will be fine, that life is beautiful - the sun will rise. And when the sun comes up you can use half a personal day to take your youngest sister to breakfast and then give custody of her over to your aunt and uncle for the summer. There will be cousins playing, and blackberries for picking, and a funny story about the fourth of July. Then you can go to work and fel accomplished. You can come home at night to your husband, and if you happen to wake up at 2 a.m. with a terrible pressure in your chest you can remember that things will get better. Dawn will come, and the sun will rise.