30 October 2012

Two Stories

Last week I drove down to New Orleans to catch composer Sarah Quintana's performance/installation at A Studio in the Woods. Just the idea of driving on my own to the city I love most in the world was exciting enough to keep me awake the night before.

For some people I talked to during my 22 hours in The City, seven hours of driving seemed excessive for such a short visit. For me, it's one of my favorite ways to work.  Drive time is usually think time for me; all the more so through MS where kudzu turns pastoral landscapes into magical kingdoms full of soft but slightly scary giants. In the same way I looked at cloud shapes as a child,  Mississippi kudzu-covered power lines and abandoned houses are re-imagined as imaginary creatures.

The performance/installation turned out to be much less evocative than two stories I heard:  one told by my friend and overnight host and the other by a man I met at an open mic show in a bar on the edge of the French Quarter.

My host told the story of a new client whose adult son recently committed suicide. Unconvinced the death was a suicide, this 60-something woman was in pursuit of official confirmation of her suspicions. Poised and well-dressed, she sat in my friend's office with dry eyes and no visible signs of grief. My friend found the woman's composure and single-mindedness unnerving, unnatural.

The more she talked, the more I was reminded of my own late mother -- and, by extension, myself and my siblings. We are people adept at putting on "the good face". The irony is that in some situations, the better face is the face where grief, confusion or pain are transparently in evidence.

I made my way to the Wednesday open mic at Buffa's to catch a new friend's performance of three new songs. I also hoped to hang out and catch up with her and other folks I'd met there back in May. When I arrived, the act on stage was uninspiring. I stepped outside for a smoke and was introduced to Walter, a bearded bear of a man whose gentle, philosophical nature was quickly evident.

Conversation meandered from the upcoming presidential election to "life in the South" and race relations. Walter prefaced his story by saying "I am from what you would call "poor white trash" stock. I grew up in rural Georgia." He recalled one night when he was about 4 years old.  His father was away, as he often was for work. A deputy sheriff came by to pick up his mother (Walter suspects she was "messin' around" with the deputy). He said he had something to show her.

They drove for what seemed a long time to young Walter. They parked the car and walked into the woods. Walter is in his 60s now but he said he still remembers the night clearly. The deputy switched on his flashlight and raised the beam to focus on the charred remains of a human body hanging from tree. "He was laughing and proud but I felt scared and sick and confused." The dissonance of the experience reverberates still for him, half a century later.

I am taking a break from FaceBook. I have seen too much of the worst human behavior in the last several weeks leading up to the Election. Like little Walter, attending the social network has left me scared and sick and confused. People are showing not "the good face" but the dark heart behind the veil of anonymity that online discourse enables. 

I "Liked" a page called "It's Not Easy Leaning Left in Mississippi" the day before I deactivated my account. I'll check up with them again when I return. Sometime after the Election. I try not to think about my expectation that the results will lead to further strife and conflict. There's no place to hide entirely from this mess but I can take a break from standing at the front.

19 October 2012

Story of an Episode (of Writer's Block)

Why is it so difficult to write lately? Urges to document my experience, to follow a thread of inquiry, to reminisce arise frequently; but I don't indulge the urges.

I don't write with pen and paper any more although the boxes of files and notebooks and drawing pads and binders that remain in my possession despite the nomadic current that has defined my lifestyle for several years attests to a previous practice.

I write at the computer now. That is, when I write.

It's not for lack of ideas; although I observe that the ideas have very short tails:  there's not much expansion or elaboration on the notions that arrive like bright bursts of light onto my Attention screen. I am genuinely engaged when the idea arrives but, like a restless child, I drop it and look about anxiously for something else, for the next shiny thing.

I've also discovered that my creative process is still strongly tied to smoking. Even when I am sufficiently motivated to at least open the Bookmark for SITC, I often decide to step outside for a smoke before I start (the current site of sojourn is a smoke-free environment). It is while standing on either of two enchanting porch spaces here, with cigarette in hand, that the previously described "bursts of light" occur.

When I return to the keyboard, more often than not, I am lured into extended explorations on FB or (blush) dalliances with Spider Solitaire, FreeCell and Minesweeper.

Today, this time, obviously, something different happened because here I am.

What happened this time?

Psychological Baggage. Just detaching from all psychological baggage is one way to characterize the process that has resulted in my sitting here now, fingers to keyboard. Writing.
The baggage is still here. I can pick it up and lay it down and pick it up and lay it down....

I know it's there. I know it's here. It's neither "good" nor "bad" -- though I'm aware my mind wants to (and does) pass judgment.

And today, when I released attachment to my thoughts about my psychological baggage, another space opened up

and I found myself here. Talking to you and to myself.

Late Sharing of a Possibly Worthless Post

The post that follows was written a couple weeks ago. I'm not even gonna re-read it. Just post it because I don't want to throw it away. Let me know if there's something here for you. I'm always interested to hear from readers.


I'm in a mood. "Discontentment" is one way of describing it.  It's not mysterious. In the almost-48 hours since the first of this year's presidential 'debates' between Obama and Romney concluded:
  • I finished reading Sam Harris' keenly intelligent Letter to a Christian Nation,
  • talked on the phone with Daddy -- he's depressed, largely immobile and reading the Bible, "this time, cover to cover"
  • browsed MSNBC online video catalog of debate-related reaction/analysis/commentary. One thing led to another and before I realized it, it was 4 a.m. I'd been chain-smoking all night; out to the front porch between video clips...
  • finally to bed a little before 6 a.m.
Wednesday morning I baked bread.

The events just listed are a recipe for a somewhat-sour "starter" dough for a day. I woke up around noon feeling disoriented. And a little grumpy.

No appetite. Made coffee.  Stripped the bed and started laundry.

Sat down to the computer:  email...FB.. shopped for a bra...checked bank and PayPal balances.

The "Sour Day" recipe was augmented by discovering a) I have less $ in personal account because recent auto registration, tag fee and insurance payments went through; b) also less $ than expected in PayPal account;  and c) a startling, unfamiliar $100 payment to BP in my PayPal Activity register (phone conversation with gas station manager offers no resolution but phone conversation with PayPal clears the mystery).

Out to the mailbox: 
    check the mail and find a large envelope of smaller envelopes, forwarded from Berkeley, including notices from Bank of the West (I owe them for an item that arrived after I closed my account); City of Oakland (an unpaid parking citation); Dept of Education (my student loan debt with interest is around $200,000 and they have newly legislated authorization to attach wages earned from a select group of Federal employers).

    Yikes! Just re-read this...  Pretty sobering BUT, clearly, I survived that day and years from now I may find the minutiae charming or interesting.

    11 October 2012

    Correspondence on grey-sky 10-11-12

    This post began as a response to email from a dear friend.  Under the  Subject Line "Why I am not suited for FaceBook" he sent a poem ("Fuck the Middle Class") and a photo of a small cemetery.  I found the entire missive evocative and started my response:  

    Thank you.
    This is a place to start on one more no-sun day in Holly Springs MS: the closed society...

    The main reason I am inclined to "go in order" and deliver a point-by-point response to this luscious message is that I was raised in an aspiring-to-middle-class Negro family in a small town in the midwestern U.S. in the middle of the 20th century.

    An image of a herd, milling and mooing, comes to mind. Cows, buffalo, zebra, antelope. Growing up, watching Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom (on black and white TV! no less) I learned there is safety in the middle of the herd. Those who find themselves on the periphery face the greatest danger.

    Here's one idea:  in the animal kingdom, the danger at the periphery is being killed and eaten by a predator of a different species. The risk at the periphery in the human realm is rejection by members of one's native species...or even being killed (but not eaten; cannibalism is strictly prohibited among civilized people).

    The implicit comment about FB in your Subject line catches my eye.  Likely because the past week in FB World has been bizarre and absurd and emotional. For two days, I've been thinking "FB is whack! Why do I bother? Why do I go there?" The presidential campaign has fried a lot of people. On my Wall I witness people whose devotion to one candidate or another manifests as hundreds of posts fired into the news feed stream every day....and people who log on to fight digitally with everybody about everything that contradicts their world view.

    I've witnessed two meltdowns this week.  Both of them women. One of them, after years of assiduous adherence to a "be nice" policy on FB, went a little crazy. In a thread about "liberal fantasies," I opined that indulgence of fantasy is not restricted by political persuasion. The woman in question responded to that comment (in part....an excerpt will serve to illustrate my point): 
     A fetus, baby, or glob is viable out of the womb at 24 weeks. You could either put the fetus, baby, or glob in an incubator to help it survive, IF you wanted the fetus, baby, or glob. If a fetus, baby, or glob is 24 weeks old, and you DO NOT want the fetus, baby, or glob, it is OK, with some, to suck it out, limb by limb, and let the fetus, baby, or glob float to the top in a bucket of blood. Bizarre, Alex. Absolutely bizarre!

    It is sheer fantasy to not call this act the murder of a fetus, baby, or glob. We all have different views and opinions. There are other fantasies I could address. At this point, I will abstain.
     The other meltdown also sprang from a thread that seemed to be about American politics but eventually collapsed (or exploded) around religious faith.
    It's curious to me, an ebb and flow I sense sometimes on Facebook:  at times there seems to be much chatter in the town square (Arendt's "public realm"), and other times it feels like a ghost town, just a few tumbleweed posts from FB addicts blowing across my Wall. At various times I have perceived jubilation and dismay and hilarity and anger and vanity and courage on the Wall. 

    There is a pervasive lack of consciousness on FB.  Apparent to me at least. And I notice that it's really no more marked or prevalent in the cyber realm than in the real-life realm; but where I am usually dismayed-but-resigned when I encounter it in real-life, I am irritated or frightened by the FB version.

    And there's been increased evidence of primitive, un-evolved consciousness on display at FB lately. I was thinking about it this way this morning:

    The "race question", never very far away or submerged in the U.S. mindset, has reared its head with a mounting vengeance since Obama's campaign and election to the presidency. A lot of white people are appalled by the things other white people are saying, shocked and sickened by the vile, naked ignorance, brutality and anger being expressed by "their own people." I'm not shocked. I am deeply saddened -- and exhausted -- to find the herd still here, on the same muddy bloody spot we have always stood...still needing to moo and bawl and low in the same old way, nothing new to say.

    And so it goes. 


    There are other reasons I'm also feeling ill-suited to FB these days. But I'd rather sit at a piano than a computer now.  So this will do for today.