Saturday, December 31, 2005
New Year

So that one wasn't so bad, eh?

I mean, it was horrible, obviously... war, death, famine, plague, poverty, natural and man-made disasters, the loss of a whole fucking city, the ongoing perversion of everything our once-great nation theoretically stands for, et cetera, ad nauseam. There was an awful lot of rage and pain on a national and global scale this year. But it's still better than feeling nothing. I think. Maybe not. I noticed a few more people waking up, though, which bodes well for the coming year.

For me personally, it was a decided improvement on the few preceding years, though. It wasn't the year in which everything comes to fruition, more like the year that suggests I'm finally back on the road that might lead there. I don't know where the hell I'm going, but I've got some momentum under me, so the trip should be smooth enough for the immediate future. I hope. Maybe not.

We'll see.

Happy New Year, everybody.
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Thursday, December 29, 2005
Home, Or A Reasonable Facsimilie Thereof

Well that was an interesting day. In a good way, I mean. Which is cool, since it's been a while since I've had a full-on, no-reservations Really Nice Day.

I went out this morning-ish expecting to see one person, my initial dip back into my old Memphis social circles. That the one person was one of my very most favoritest people in town meant that, after a week or two in quiet repose, I was particularly eager. It was exactly what I needed at just the right time... enough to soothe (at least temporarily) my lingering anxieties about whether or not I've done the right thing by returning. (They'll be back, I'm sure.)

But in the sort of chain of events that can only happen in a middling-sized city with a half-smothered hipster community, meeting up with one person eventually snowballed into running into damn near everybody I know. There in the coffee shop were three other acquaintances -- not there together, not in any particular configuration of inter-relatedness, just three random friends. One of them mentioned a screening by a fourth friend taking place that night. I went along at the appointed time, and there, predictably enough, was everybody else. All of them. At once. And by some stroke of good fortune, there were two old friends visiting from new homes out of town, both of them having extended their stays by an extra day (for different reasons), and both leaving in the morning. One of the out-of-towners was another of my very most favorite people from Memphis, and the pleasant surprise of getting a snuggly hug from him made the evening that much better. There were, of course, a couple of people who weren't present -- there are always faces missing. But of everyone I'm at all interested in seeing in this city, I do believe I found every one of them at some point during the day -- and all without even meaning to.

There were also lots of strangers around -- every time I go to the Co-op now, it seems, there are new people who stare at me suspiciously, like I'm the new one. I'm just insecure enough that that annoys the hell out of me. But I'm also reserved enough (pointing out that "reserved" is just the grown-up, emotionally mature version of "shy") to not go straight up and re-establish my spot in the hierarchy. But it doesn't matter... they'll figure it out soon enough.

I don't quite know what to make of it all. I still feel a deep-seated, knee-jerk reluctance to admit that I'm comfortable here; that there could be something in Memphis that I might value even more highly than my closely-guarded rootlessness. I really don't want that to be true. But coming back is an awful lot like crawling into bed after a long day, if you know what I mean.
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Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Filler

Meme tag, I'm it. But that's okay... to be honest, half the time my posts are just a way to take my modest writing skills out for walkies anyway. Indulge me while I indulge myself and an unspecified reader.

Seven Things to Do Before I Die

1. See the stars from the open ocean
2. Live in a foreign language
3. Touch the walls of the Sagrada Familia
4. Make one film that demonstrates what I'm really capable of
5. Do something brilliantly, flamboyantly generous for someone (ideally anonymously)
6. Get that whole "love" thing right just once more
7. Learn how to play ragtime

Seven Things I Can't Do

1. Stand brussels sprouts
2. Do anything more than the simplest math in my head
3. Play chess (or any other strategy-based game) worth a damn
4. Remember any of the Russian I learned in high school and college
5. Sew
6. Watch a train pass without entertaining gruesome, morbid thoughts
7. Produce sperm

Seven Reasons Why I Blog

1. Sometimes this is the only way to say stuff that I really want to say but nobody ever asks me about
2. Someone I've lost might find me here someday
3. SometimesI need to vent
4. I'm a self-interested solipsist
5. I need the practice
6. If we were all more open with each other, we'd all be happier
7. It's an excellent way to procrastinate

Seven Things I Say Most Often

1. Hey
2. What?
3. Fuck (and derivatives)
4. Sure, no problem.
5. Okay
6. Yeah, well...
7. See ya.

Seven Books I Love

1. "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek," by Annie Dillard
2. "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," by Douglas Adams
3. "The Bloody Chamber," by Angela Carter
4. "The Essential Ellison," by Harlan Ellison
5. "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting," by Milan Kundera
6. "1000 Years of Solitude," by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
7. "Film as a Subversive Art," by Amos Vogel

Seven Movies That I Watch Over And Over

1. My Dinner With Andre
2. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
3. The Piano
4. Happiness
5. The Day The Earth Froze (MST3K version only)
6. The Pillow Book
7. Raise the Red Lantern

Seven People I Want To Tag Next

Sadly, many of the people whose answers I'd really be interested in reading don't have blogs. But of the ones that do (and no offense to you guys -- second choices, the lot of you):

1. Shawshawshaw
2. Greensmile
3. Stefan
4. Morgan
5. Somebody who's never read this blog before today
6. It seems I don't know many people who have blogs
7.

The seven non-bloggers I'd have picked:

1. Chris
2. Randy
3. Doug
4. Dom
5. Ben
6. Einstein
7. Jesus
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Sunday, December 25, 2005
Holiday Cheer

Happy Chanukah, everybody, and a very debauched Saturnalia. Io io io!

G_ds bless us, every one.



PS: Okay, I admit it, it's shameful that I don't know the difference between a menorah and a hannukiah. You learn something new every year. In my defense, when I was attending a private Episcopalian elementary school as a child, the one Jewish's kid's mom always came to class every year to give a little presentation on Chanukah, and she always referred to the ritual object she brought with her as a menorah. I guess the nuance went over my head at nine, and I've just never really questioned it. The baby Jesus wants you to cut me some slack.

That said, the diagram above is technically correct. Just maybe not holiday-appropriate. Seriously, maybe we need to consider starting up a "War On Chanukah" campaign, since clearly the majority of Americans are as unclear on the subject as we are on parliamentary politics.

I'm just relieved to see nobody had any beef with the Saturnalia part of the post. Bah, humbug.
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Thursday, December 22, 2005
Wil Wheaton, Voice Of My Generation

I think many people of roughly my age -- by which I guess I basically mean Gen X and a bit of early Gen Y -- will read this and instantly identify. It's worth clicking through the ad if you're not a subscriber -- and don't be fooled by the slug-line.

The thing is, though, I know better than to bring up politics with my dad. Ever since he started listening to talk radio for hours out of the day, he's slowly lost his ability to objectively look at the facts and draw his own conclusions. If Rush, Hannity, Dennis Prager or O'Reilly say it, my dad believes it as surely as he believes anything. Thanks to this abdication of rational thinking, both of my parents completely bought into the Swift Boat Liars, still believe that Saddam was connected to 9/11, and recently decided to move to Montana, which my mother described as "the real America" to me and my siblings. When Schwarzenegger ran for governor, my mom's impression of him, having worked with him as a model in the 1960s, mysteriously transformed from "a steroid-shooting lech" to "a total gentleman, who was always taking his supplements, which were injected in those days."

(...)

Didn't [my dad] understand that we disagree because he raised me to believe in and support the very things he now proclaims are destroying America?

This is the thing that always gets me about my mother's Republicanism: as far as I can tell, she's the one who raised me to be a liberal. Living abroad, being involved in the arts, having gay friends, and going to a private college in the northeast may have reinforced it, but everything liberal about me has its roots in her. Which is what makes it so confusing when I now see her espousing something that's so grossly contrary to everything she spent my childhood instilling in me. And she refuses to see that side of things.

The weird thing is, I think I understand why she became a Reagan Democrat (and later a Bush Republican): the Democrats were a shady bunch during her young adulthood, and most often ineffectual as well. First there was LBJ and Vietnam, the mess in Chicago, and later on the flailing of the Carter administration -- I'm sure Reagan looked like a pretty good deal to disillusioned Boomers back in 1980. I don't know if she understands that I look at Republicans and see exactly the same thing: a bad war, pervasive corruption, and complete ineptitude in every endeavor. She predicts that one day I'll be a conservative myself; I don't think she realizes that her president is currently cementing in place my gut-level revulsion at the very thought. Seven or eight years ago, I honestly might have been swayed. But as long as there's room for someone like Bush in the party, I want no part of it. To choose otherwise would be, to my mind, a wholesale betrayal of everything I believe in, everything I value in this world -- all of which are rooted in the way she raised me.

Anyway, it's comforting to know that Wil's been there, too.
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Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Angst On A Stick

I went into the city today -- my first real foray -- to have a look around and pick up a few pre-Christmas supplies: eggs, butter, parchment paper, brown sugar, bourbon. (The bourbon isn't for drinking, I've got some Bailey's for that. The bourbon is for a ham. As it happens, I make a damn fine ham... which is slightly odd since I don't really care for ham all that much.) I could've gotten all those things in Mississippi, but I've mostly shaken off that last thousand miles now, and I figured it was time to investigate my once and future realm.

And I knew this would happen. I knew I would end up sitting in my car, staring at the back of some ass-fucking SUV with a dozen pro-Bush stickers on the back, thinking, "My god, what have I done?! I don't want to fucking live in Memphis!" The domestic, suburban, middle-class settled-in-ness of it all made me feel faintly sick -- not from disgust, more like vertigo.

Of course, anyone who knows me remotely well knows that it isn't really about Memphis. I get the metaphysical shakes anytime I find myself somewhere without an escape plan -- it isn't the place that gets to me so much as the permanance. I am, it would be fair to suggest, not so good at permanance. Which should not, I hasten to point out, be mistaken for an unwillingness to undertake responsibility, or even for a case of classic commitmentphobia. I'm perfectly happy to commit to people and places and causes; I will devote my life and all the energy I possess to any of the above when it feels right. I think my closest friends will attest to my loyalty and devotion over the long-term. It's just that my version of commitment doesn't seem to be included in most other people's definition of that word.

The simple fact of the matter is, I'm not so good at permanance because I haven't had much practice. I haven't spent more than three straight years anywhere since I was 12; I don't really know how to settle in one place and be happy there. Maybe that's because of the manner of my growing up, or maybe it's just intrinsic to my personality. Maybe it's the same impulse that has repeatedly inspired me to bolt at the mention of the M-word, the same impulse that makes me nervous around pregnant women. It's not that I don't sometimes covet and want those things, it's just that in the balance between having them and remaining at liberty, it's the latter that always weighs the heaviest in my mind.

But what kind of life is that? I've been doing the slacker/artist/intellectual thing for ten years, and what have I got to show for it? The desire to attain the standard trappings of American life seems to come so naturally for some people, and it sometimes feels as though I'm judged negatively for not being able to find those same desires in myself -- I feel like I'm doomed to be seen as a post-adolescent for the rest of my life, and not as a more-or-less fully-realized adult with perhaps an atypical set of personal ambitions. I'm 30 now, I guess I'm supposed to want the solid relationship and the car and the house and the baby, and I can't deny that if the right relationship/car/house/baby scenario came along that I probably would want it. But at the moment, I can't even imagine what that scenario would look like; I have no idea how I'd ever get from here to there.

None of which means that I don't have a life in mind, but it doesn't look a thing like that life. I don't even understand how that life works -- I don't understand traditional marriage and family, I don't understand allegiance to a place, and I certainly don't see why I should ever spend more than 10% of my income on a car. I just don't "get" this whole set of assumptions. And I don't really care that I don't get it. But sometimes it seems like life would be easier -- or at least simpler -- if I did. Or it might at least make a life in Memphis make more sense to me.

The metaphorical ledge is starting to look pretty good right about now.
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Monday, December 19, 2005
Stranded In Santorum Country

I still can't muster much enthusiasm for the idea of re-living my trip home, so I'm going to give you the digested version of events.

Basically, what happened is this: I had known for a week or two that my car was in declining health. Mostly she was running fine, but she had become sluggish on hills and had started to need frequent coolant top-ups. But you know how these things are -- you try to get through whatever is next, and knowing that I was up against the end of term (meaning I would shortly be homeless in Vermont) and knowing that if I could just get home I could tend to her mechanical problems, I did the best I could with her and hoped for luck. I also had a weather issue to contend with. Wednesday was clear and sunny in Vermont, but a snowstorm was approaching from the west and I had one day to get south of the worst of it before I found myself doing a long drive through mountainous country in ice and snow.

So I left Wednesday morning after having filled all her various reservoirs, through the hilly-but-short route through Bennington and Albany. I figured if she could hack the monster hills on the road to Bennington, she'd be fine the rest of the way -- and she did, though not without some problems. 45 minutes after I left, her "low coolant" light came on; I hopped out and refilled her; 10 minutes after that it came on again. That freaked me out a bit, I have to admit. I checked her, though, and she was still full -- odd behavior. I pressed on.

We got clear of Vermont and crossed New York without further incident. Oh, she was slow up the hills, no question, but she made it. Until, of course, she didn't. Just north of Scranton she started to shudder and lurch; I could barely keep her above 35 mph. Some amount of black smoke was emitting from her tailpipe. I, of course, was stuck on the interstate, and I attempted to get as far as the next exit before stopping. The problem would start and the stop again -- she'd be fine for five or six miles, and then it would start all over. After several episodes of this, I got myself pulled over and called AAA.

I got to sit on the side of I-81 in the cold for about 45 minutes before the tow truck appeared. He loaded my old girl up and took me to some garage out in the middle of nowhere -- Factoryville, to be precise. I can't deny I was getting anxious -- about where he was taking me, about what kind of people I'd find myself entrusted to when we got there, about whether I was going to spend the night and where I would do it if I did, about the approaching bad weather, about whether my car would ever make it back to Mississippi. We got to the garage, he deposited me and my car inside, and several men proceeded to ignore me for the next half hour or so.

There was another woman in the waiting room, though, and she assured me that I was in a good place -- she said she wouldn't take her car anywhere else. They would fix my car right and not overcharge me for it, and they'd make sure I was safe in the meantime. So I relaxed a little and waited for the verdict. The woman offered to let me stay with her overnight, which I politely declined -- it was very nice of her, but even while she seemed perfectly trustworthy, I just didn't want to be stuck in a stranger's house; I needed a little control over something to assuage my anxiety. A bit after 6:30 a mechanic came in and told me cheerfully that they wouldn't be able to fix my car until the morning -- they knew at least that the water pump was shot, but until they replaced it they wouldn't be able to tell whether there was another problem as well, and they couldn't get the part until in the morning. So he said he'd take me to a nearby town with lots of motels -- I ended up spending the night in a chain motel in Clark's Summit, PA.

I was instructed to call not before 11 AM the next day, so I checked out of my room at 10 and went next door to a Krispy Kreme where I loitered over coffee for several hours while I waited for word on the repair. At one point a vanload of nuns came in; one of them wore shiny black boots. I read a book -- Chris Hedges' War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (which is harrowing but jaw-droppingly good, by the way) -- and hung around as long as seemed reasonable, at which point I removed to a Burger King up the road. Just after 2PM I got the call that my car was fixed, which is about the same time the first snowflakes started to fall. The receptionist at the garage came and picked me up; we went back, I paid, and that was it: all fixed. They'd replaced the water pump, a few small gaskets in the radiator, and put in a new catalytic converter. The latter, apparently, was the real cause of my problems --my car had been choking on her own exhaust. By the time I pulled out, the snow had begun to accumulate on the roads, a good deal of ice was predicted, and it was only two hours until sunset. So to hell with it -- I'm not driving through dark and ice and snow. I returned to the motel and checked back in. The next morning -- apart from a brief brush with my own stupidity -- I was back on my way.

There's more to be told, a few side-stories I will reserve for future retellings, but that's the basic gist of the trip -- at the end of the day, it wasn't all that bad, really. The rest of the journey passed without incident, I made it home safely (albeit two days late), and the financial hit wasn't really all that bad. But for a couple of nights the road was a bit rocky. The silver lining is that my car is now running better than it has in years; I wouldn't be surprised if she found another 50K in there somewhere.

So there you go. I could've told it better, but to be honest I can't be bothered. Car trouble just isn't that interesting.
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Saturday, December 17, 2005
Four-Day Suckfest

That trip suuuuuuuuuuuuucked.

Look how many u's I put in there -- that's a direct reflection of the sheer degree of suckage involved in my journey. I finally just got home not twenty minutes ago -- on Thursday afternoon, which is when I had anticipated arriving home, I was still stuck 20 miles north of Scranton, PA. Which should give you a good idea of the amount of suckiness I've had to work through.

But when you're driving home through the northeast in mid-December, carrying all your worldly possessions in a car with 214,000 miles on it, these things will happen, I guess.

I will explain fully later tonight -- no, fuck it, tomorrow. I don't want to think about it right now. My mother has made beef stroganoff for dinner, and after that I'm going to take an outrageously long, hot bath, do a little laundry, sleep until my face falls off, and hope I feel human again in the morning.
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Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Free To Go

Bye, Vermont. Goodbye knee-deep snow. Goodbye hippies. Goodbye sane social policy. Goodbye bad Mexican food. Goodbye numb fingers. Goodbye van runs. Goodbye dorm life. Goodbye overpriced private liberal arts college.

I'm leaving now.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005
B+, Bitches*

And that's with honors, thank you very much.

It was completely painless -- protracted, but painless. I was a bit queasy this morning (nerves), but I managed to not stammer too badly as I was introduced to my outside examiner, so we were off on the right foot. We watched my film in the library (me pacing around in the background again, which is seemingly becoming a habit), then retired to a professor's office to continue. We began at 10:30 this morning, and I received my final grade at just shy of 2PM, so that was three and a half hours of discussion. They critiqued my film (very positive), we talked about Maya Deren (also very positive), we discussed Amos Vogel (and everyone was just taking positivity for granted at that point), and talked about several other random topics of varying degrees of relevance to my thesis. I could sit here and tell you everything they said about my work, but it would sound like bragging, so I won't.

And then they sent me off into the world to fulfill my mission as an agent of film culture.

So, there it is.

I should get back to my packing now.



* There she goes with that "bitch" thing again.
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Monday, December 12, 2005
The Very Last Step

Tomorrow morning I go in at 10:30 to sit my final oral exam -- or, to use the preferred, non-threatening term, my "oral evaluation." A nice hippie who runs an arthouse theater up in Montpelier is coming down to have a conversation with me and my two professors for a couple of hours. The result of all this is supposed to be no more than half a grade's influence either way -- this person could feasibly change my grade by a plue or minus, but no more than that. One of my professors assured me that the overwhelming majority of the time it was actually pretty fun, and in any case no big deal. So I am officially treating it as no big deal.

Okay, maybe I'm just a little nervous. I'm fighting the temptation to try to re-stuff my head with details about Maya Deren and Amos Vogel, but after a year, I either know it or I don't. I can be pretty quick with the bullshit in situations like this, anyway... how many times have I gotten up on stage at the Co-op in Memphis with only a vague idea of what I was going to talk about, and ended up filling two hours? (Correct answer: at least half a dozen.)

So I shall resist the urge, and instead spend the evening packing. 'Cause no matter what happens tomorrow, I'm on the road as of Wednesday morning, and I'd better be ready to go. I hope all this crap fits in my car.
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The Amazing Vegan Cat

I'm grouchy today. I was grouchy yesterday, too. It's not an aimless, all-pervasive grouchiness. I'm not likely to snap at friends, that would be bizarre behavior even when I'm at my worst (although it does very occasionally happen, generally right after I've woken up or when my blood-sugar is low, and I always feel bad afterwards). No, this is more like an extremely low tolerance for bullshit.

I was driving the van last night, and ended up with a few passengers who decided to pass the entire journey by expounding at length on the subject of their "vegan" cat. Why anyone would force a cat to be vegan I shudder to think -- people can be vegan if they want, and good luck with that, but projecting your dietary neuroses onto a carnivorious animal seems a bit unfair. "But a cat can live perfectly happily on a diet of tofu and lentils," they protest. "It's still protein. And if you add some special enzymes, it meets all their nutritional requirements."

These synthetic enzymes -- because of course their natural sources are animal, and thus not vegan -- are apparently very much like fish food. So they said last night in the van, anyway.

Why, I asked, would anyone take a beastie that has evolved over hundreds of thousands of millenia to eat only other beasties, and compel it to live on a diet that excludes all animal-derived foods, thus requiring the inclusion of synthetic chemicals to keep it from going blind and having all its hair fall off?

Because it's "natural" and "healthy."

It was all I could do to resist the urge to put them all off the van.

They then proceeded to describe how skinny their cat was, how it ate and drank voraciously but never got any fatter, how the vet looked at them suspiciously when they brought the cat in -- "but he's a 'normal' vet, not a naturopathic one." But if you whisper that maybe this whole "vegan cat" thing isn't actually as healthy as they think, they'd get so defensive you'd think they were at Nuremberg.

If you want to keep little animals from dying horribly, you should be going around killing cats. You should engage in cat slaughter on a massive scale. If your "vegan" cat was big enough, or if you were small enough, it would kill you and eat you as soon as look at you -- it might bat you around for a while first, but sooner or later it would deliver the killing bite to the back of your neck, and then it would commence to eating all the soft parts between your head and your legs. This, for your cat, is natural and healthy. So let's not fucking kid ourselves here.

Christ, what are their children going to be like?
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Sunday, December 11, 2005
Goodbye Already

This is the part I find tiresome.

People (mostly women, it goes without saying) keep coming up to me and saying, "ohmigod, you're going to be gone soon! I'll never see you again!" And then they insist on hugging me.

Don't get me wrong -- I like hugs as much as the next person, although generally I prefer them if I actually know and like the person doing the hugging. But I will usually accept a hug from all but the most repugnant people. The thing that actually bothers me about this is the gross pretense of it all.

My unspoken reply:

"Please, you don't even know me; you've said barely a dozen words to me in the last year. And that's okay, I didn't mind, I didn't really want you in my business anyway; but don't now pretend that you're going to miss me terribly once I'm gone. Ten minutes after I leave the driveway you will forget you ever met me, and that's as it should be. So, yes, we are parting ways -- let's at least salvage our dignity in this separation. My affection is reserved for my actual friends, and you, as good and valuable a person as you are, are not among their number."

Admittedly I'm not the most sentimental person in the world. I don't waste these kinds of words on the 99.9% of the world's population that aren't my close associates. But at least when I tell my friends that I love/miss/appreciate them, they'll know I really mean it. There are a couple of people I've met here that I wouldn't mind seeing again one day, and I will feel a bit sorry to say goodbye to them. But then again, I've done it a hundred times before -- leaving is one of my specialties. And whatever faint melancholy results from saying goodbye to casual acquaintances will be quickly alleviated by my reunion with other people whom I miss even more. And wherever I'm going, either to Memphis or points beyond, I'm sure there are more new people to meet, and by whom to one day be superficially hugged goodbye. And one or two, perhaps, to love and miss.
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Saturday, December 10, 2005
The Dear Departed Saints

And so we lose another one.
The cinema is my church, but subversive comedy is my religion. And the best of the joke-cum-truth-tellers -- Bruce, Hicks, Pryor -- are our prophets and saints.

I'll be waiting to start counting his miracles any time now.

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Friday, December 09, 2005
That Gratifying Sense Of Accomplishment

Yesterday I dropped the last little pieces into my film. It's all done now -- there are things I could tweak after I get back to Memphis, but at the moment I'm thinking it's about time to abandon this project (in the sense that Valèry used that word, of course.) It's tricky to find a balance between competing aspects of my own irrational response to the film -- my tendency towards harsh self-criticism on one side and giddiness over the accomplishment on the other -- so I'm trying to let my neutral intellect make the call. The final screening is tonight, though, and a word from any random stranger could still shift the balance one way or the other. I'm feeling very vulnerable today; nobody outside a tiny, trusted circle has seen it, but tonight a hundred or so people I barely know will be gawking at my cinematic baby.

Though, let's face it, they probably won't care that much either way.

Anyway, in an effort to grind down the edge of my neurosis a bit and soften the impact of the first screening, I'll consider opening that tiny circle just a little wider. If anybody wants to see this film, drop me a note at the email address in the contact box and I'll send you a URL. If I decline to do so, it's because I don't know who the hell you are and don't trust you, or because I intend to send you a high-quality hard copy at some point and don't want to ruin it with a lo-res mpeg.

I should also point out that the credit for whatever is good about this film is not solely mine to claim -- the cast and crew get their share as well. But more significantly, the sound designer / composer gave this film a great deal of its life. I'll let him reveal himself in the comments if he's so inclined. Suffice to say, he did a phenomenal job with which I am deliriously happy. In retrospect, he was the only person for it -- I'm only glad enough I was brave enough to ask.

So, I'm done. I know I've said that maybe half a dozen times in the last couple of weeks, but this time it's really true. I'm taking pristine copies of my thesis to the registrar and librarian today, and then there's nothing to do but pack and wait for my orals. I'm out of here as of Wednesday morning, one more thousand-mile drive through the Appalachians, then back to whatever waits for me in Memphis.

But I'll be back in May to wear a silly hat.
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Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Sense Of Space

So I wake up this morning, and the whole left side of my body seems to be slightly out of whack. I've got a funny hitch in my shoulder that I just can't get rid of, and my left knee is bothering me for no readily apparent reason.

Is this how it's going to be now?

I've begun organizing my stuff and collecting boxes for the big pack-up coming early next week. I'm finally out of this joint once and for all, with no hard feelings but also no great attachments. I love Vermont, and I think at some point I'd like to explore the northern half of the state -- "real Vermont" as the Vermonters call it; "Brattleboro is part of Massachusetts," they insist. I think that's the kind of cultural distinction only a native or deeply-entrenched transplant can perceive, a bit like my argument that Memphis is rightly a part of Mississippi, not Tennessee. Which I can prove with pencil and paper and a copy of Faulkner.

It occured to me a couple of days ago, while driving the college van through town, that one thing that has always eluded me up here is any meaningful sense of the scale of human life as it's lived in New England. For example: the houses. Vermont houses only come in two sizes -- teeny-weeny (in the 1,000 sq. ft. range) and ungodly huge (I wouldn't hazard a guess as to their square footage, but most of them are big enough to have been sectioned off into two- three- and four-unit apartment houses.) But their dimensions don't seem to have much relation to their capacities. You step into a tiny house and discover that it has four bedrooms; you step into a huge old farmhouse and it feels cramped (albeit labyrinthine.) What the hell is going on here? New England space makes no sense.

Anyway, I guess I'm trading it all in for southern life again. I spent a good amount of time up here investigating my options, and I think any of them would have been ultimately possible. I could've gone to Boston or New York or Montreal -- but, and this is the point, I don't think I'd have been able to do any of the stuff I personally want to do in those places. I'd have been spending all my energy and creativity on squeaking out a living and getting myself established, finding new friends and associates, starting my life over again, again. I feel like I've spent most of my life so far starting it over -- it's fair to say that I'm getting a bit exhausted with it. And so I'm leaving for Memphis once more, to join with a life already in progress.

It's strange, y'know, the first time I left Vermont to go to Memphis, I struggled for a time with the maddening sensation that I'd left my whole life behind. And now my situation is exactly reversed.

I'm certain that at some point in the first couple of months, I'll be needing my Memphis people to talk me in off the metaphorical ledge -- "I've ruined my life!" "No you haven't, remember all the reasons you had for coming back?" "I want to move to Spain!" "Okay, you can work on that, but first come back in here finish your fries before Derrick eats them all." I've been trying to find a way to describe my feelings about this return, but none of the usual adjectives -- ambivalent, reluctant, hesitant -- capture my state of mind. So I have come to think of it as "eager dread." As a phrase, it nicely sums up my entire life at this moment: I can't believe it's come down to this, which I was trying so hard to avoid, and I especially can't believe I'm doing it voluntarily; and in fact I very much fear that I'm betraying something fundamental in doing it and that ultimately I will be able to trace all my future failures back to this point. But I can't wait to get started, it's going to be great!

Yep, eager dread. It's actually pretty fun.

And all told, I'm in a very agreeable headspace right now. I believe that I'm coming away from my academic adventure not only having found, more or less, what I came to find, but also having been intellectually re-invigorated in the process. A year of study is just about right -- any longer and it would've become drudgery, but any less and I wouldn't have accomplished much worthwhile. I have a dozen projects in the planning, my creativity is burning along at a very productive pace, and my intellectual curiosity is both heightened and more focused than it's been in years (I've been reading about physics lately. Physics!) So I can't really complain -- whatever happens next, whatever becomes of me back Down There, at least I get to start from an advantageous spot.

So in a month or so, when I've remembered why I wanted to get out of Memphis so badly and I'm crying into my soda, somebody remember that I said all this and remind me of it. Although I'll still probably want to move to Spain. Who wouldn't?
8:53 AM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Monday, December 05, 2005
If Anybody Needs Me, I'll Be In My Room, In The Dark, Curled Up Under A Blanket, Weeping For My Lost Youth

Well... shit.

As long as I'm here, I might as well do one sweeping birthday greeting for the other Decembrists currently in my life: Derrick, Randy, Jared, and -- okay, fine, even Dave. Bill Hicks' birthday is coming up soon, but then he's dead, so he's not likely to care about birthdays much anymore. I happen to share a birthday with Margaret Cho, which I think is pretty cool. I will be looking to Margaret as a role model so that I can be cooler during my 30s than I was in my 20s, just like her.

In spite of my frequent casual prattle, I don't believe in such ridiculous things as astrology (although it's a damn good way to remember people's birthdays.) But I can't help but notice how many of the most important people in my life have had and do have birthdays that fall between Thanksgiving and Christmas -- which is to say, under Sagittarius, just like me. Many of the others tend to fall in clumps under other signs -- I've befriended a lot of Leos, quite a few Libras, and a surprising number of Pisceans. There are a few outliers, the occasional Taurus or Virgo or Aquarius, but by and large my closest friends fall into those few categories.

Or we could look at it a completely different way: I also have a long and illustrious history of friendship with men who are a few years older than me -- 5-10 years seems to be the sweet spot (though that's arguably just the intersection of two other patterns.) I've had a lot of friends whose names started with "J" or "D" or "R". Through jr. high, I was repeatedly best friends with the first-chair flute player in band, regardless of whether they were male or female.

Does any of it mean anything? Nah... we could make it mean something, but apart from being fun, that wouldn't really contribute much to our collective understanding of the universe. Still, I do enjoy a good coincidence.


Sister Novena, quite a long time ago
3:32 AM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Friday, December 02, 2005
Adventures In Snow Driving

I am home, safe. Not in a ditch. Not stuck at the bottom of a hill. Home. In bed. Safe.

I was getting cocky, it's true. I was becoming over-confident. I am the intrepid college van driver, I get people home. And the road wasn't all that bad, really -- there was snow, and it had been slushy earlier, but it seemed okay. I got almost all the way to campus without incident. In fact, I made it to the very last hill.

Yeah, there were a few cars on the side of the road, but there always are on nights like this. I've made it past them plenty of times before. I just have to get up to the lot by the administration building -- it's fifty feet away. No problem. So up I go, slowly slowly...

Up... up... up... uuuuhhhhhhhh... uh-oh. Three-quarters of the way up the hill, my wheels start to spin. Oh shit. Stop. Stop stop stop stop. Brakes on, going backwards. Oh fuck.

And then I start a slow spin. It's completely predictable, of course, the classic blunder. But what else are you going to do? You can't go up, and you can't control yourself going down without stopping -- but as soon as you stop, you start to slide. Ten degrees, fifteen, thirty, still spinning -- oh god, oh no, here comes the ditch.

The only way out, of course, is to noodge the gas pedal in the hopes that you find some traction. Every fiber of your being, every ounce of your instinct is saying, "brake brake brake brake brake BRAKE BRAKE GODDAMMIT BRAKE!" You have to override that response by force of will and tap the gas. This is doubly hard to do when you're at a 45-degree angle to your original direction of travel -- which is to say, headed straight for the ditch -- but it's the only way.

My car continued its slow pirouette in the middle of the road with fantastic but alarmingly uncontrolled grace. I tried to steer, I mashed the brake (which only made me slide in a slightly different direction), and then finally, when I was facing the opposite direction from which I had begun, I noodged the gas pedal. My wheels found some road, the car jolted back into control, and I pulled neatly into a driveway at the bottom of the hill. Although I did take out a plow whip* along the way, which tells you how close I got.

Okay... so we're not going up that way.

I parked, my hands and legs shaking, strapped my ice cleats onto my boots, and headed to the dining hall to see who, if anybody, was looking for a ride. There were three: two students who lived on my way home and one townie who was heading to Brattleboro, but who has several friends to crash with on campus. "There's no way I'm doing the full run to town and back tonight," I said, "but if you two want to ride back with me in my car -- at your own risk -- you can." Sorry, townie, you're out of luck -- but you're not really supposed to ride, anyway.

So the three of us headed back down to my car, got in, crept back down the driveway to the bottom of the icy hill, and headed back the way I'd originally come. The problem is, there's a big hill on both sides. I'd made it down, but now I was stuck in a valley between them (which, pleasantly enough, has a deep gorge on one side with no rails). But there was only one thing for it -- might as well try.

So we made the attempt, and we almost got to the top. We were this close. But my wheels started to spin again, and all I could think about was my recent near miss and that deep fucking gorge. Luckily, I found some traction and came to a safe stop on the hill; I backed down sooooo slowly, back to the bottom of the hill. "You need to build up some more speed this time," said the girl in the passenger seat. "Speed?" I thought. "You want me to build up more speed? Are you fucking nuts?" But she was right, of course -- just a tiny bit more speed and we'd have made it the first time. I made several false starts, wheels slipping beneath us, stopping and backing up farther, hands shaking again. God, how I wished for studded tires. Then, taking a deep breath, I made another go for it. I was going 30 mph when we got to the bottom of the hill, and 5 mph when he got to the top of it. But we got there.

It really wasn't that big a deal; perfectly normal stuff as winter driving goes. For all my fear, I handled it all quite well -- trembling aside, I had the presence of mind to stay out of the ditch in the first place, and I was smart enough not to try the whole van run. But I could very well be stuck in a ditch out in the howling wind and snow right now, so I'm quite happy to be here, in my bed, safe.

PS: They tried to get me to go back out -- there were a few people in town waiting for the van. The roads, obviously, are completely clear in Brattleboro, so they don't realize that they've completely glassed over up on campus. I really, really hate it when people get stranded -- I do everything I can to avoid having that happen. I'll drive through snow all night long, whatever, but ice -- I won't do the ice. Anyway, they called a super-RA on campus pleading for a way home, and she called me to ask if I'd go get 'em; I said I'd consider the drive into town, but there was no f-ing way I was making another attempt at the road to the college in my car tonight. If she'd come get me and take me home again after, fine. But she might want to try the other drivers first, since they were already on campus. She said she'd try. I haven't heard back from her.

Anyway, I hope everybody else makes it to their safe, warm beds tonight. But I'm not risking my neck just because they didn't plan ahead very well.


*a plow whip, for my southern readers, is a tall, slender stick rural road crews stick into the ground along the edge of a road to let the guy driving the snow plow how far over he can safely drive.
9:35 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Thursday, December 01, 2005
An Idle Mind

Things I've been obsessing over since I finished my thesis:

1) My little step-brother, Travis.

Yeah, I had a sorta-kinda little brother once, a kid named Travis. He was a sweet little boy, only about four when I first met him. His big sister (not me, my step-sister) was a hellion, his dad was a colossal fuck-up, and his mom seemed nice enough the two times I met her. His parents had divorced when he was a baby; he never had an intact family. And then his father died when he was seven; the last time I ever saw him was at his dad's funeral. His sister (well, technically his half-sister) got pissed off because Travis came to me for a hug first. I took care of him as much as anyone during that last summer of his father's life. He came to stay with us over the school break, but my mother was too busy trying to stay afloat, his sister was off carousing all the time, and his dad was too drunk to notice him -- as often as not it fell to me to look after him. But I didn't mind, he was a nice kid... he really just wanted to play with his GI Joes and watch Drop Dead Fred.

Occasionally I wonder where he is now. He'd be in his 20s. Maybe he works in a warehouse. Maybe he's married and has a kid of his own. Maybe he joined the military -- maybe he's in Iraq right now. Maybe he's a redneck, maybe he's a born-again Christian, maybe he's a stoner hippie.

It would be nice to know whatever became of little Travis.

2) Gary Glitter

Gary Glitter freaked me the fuck out the first time I ever laid eyes on his blood-curdling visage. I saw him on the news in England right after he was first released from prison, and even before I knew what he'd been in for, he made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. The 70s are already an alarming concept for me -- there's something about flared trousers and gold medallions in chest hair that just makes me nervous. Gary Glitter was the walking personification of the 70s. He'd been in prison for looking at child porn -- he took his PC in for repair, and the next day the coppers came 'round.

If the 70s could be summed up in a sex crime, it would definitely be kiddie-diddling.

Anyway, even more than Michael Jackson (who's really more of a train wreck than a boogeyman), Gary Glitter is the face of stomach-turning depravity in my mind (short, perhaps, of Fred West or, god help us all, Brian Peppers.) I try not think about him much, although that Starbucks commercial about Hank doesn't help.

But last week I was suddenly gripped by an overpowering curiosity about Gary Glitter. It had been years since he'd gotten out of the pokey and I hadn't thought about him in nearly that long, but he just popped into my head again and wouldn't leave until I looked him up. And do you know what I found?

That very week he'd been re-arrested for fucking a twelve-year-old girl in Vietnam. If he's convicted of raping her, it'll be death by firing squad.

I do not want to be on this dude's wavelength.




In case you can't read it, that bottom line says, "I Would if I Could But I Can't".

The jokes write themselves.
7:12 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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