Sunday, April 29, 2007

I'm fucking exhausted.

I got up at 5 AM this morning, left the house at 7, and was in Indianola by 9. Then I shot and shot and shot and shot and shot. I left Indianola at 6:30, and just got back home a few minutes ago, a little after 8:30. I got three hours of footage today; counting that, I now have thirty-two tapes worth of footage for this project. Thirty-fucking-two. And I still have one more round of interviews to go. The funny thing is, looking at my thirty-two tapes, I'm still worried that I don't have enough solid footage to cut together a 60-minute film. If you're counting, that would be roughly a 30:1 shooting ratio.

Remember, I'm basically doing this for free. And while the shooting's almost over, I've still got to cut this bitch. Thirty-two tapes so far. I'm hoping somebody will remind me in the comments why I do this work.

Anyway, it was a good day. I got lots done, and I'm relieved to have the last of the major shooting over with finally. Both of the teenagers I interviewed today were better than the first few, and one of them was absolutely fantastic. So I'm satisfied with my day's work.

Driving past the Tunica casinos on my way home, there's a set of three billboards along the road advertising a skanky-looking titty bar called The Pony. The first billboard says, "GOT BEER?" in giant bold letters. The second billboard, until recently, said "GOT BOOBS?" My initial snarky response to that one was, "yes, actually, I'm all set for boobs, thanks." My second reaction was, "there's no fucking way that's going to last long." I wouldn't say I personally found it offensive so much as stupid and obnoxious, but the delta is a deeply religious place and I was certain there would be plenty of complaints. The third billboard, incidentally, showed a trio of "hot chicks" (I use the term generously; they look about as enticing as a meth-addled street whore to me, but what do I know?) along with some smarmy-looking dude in a black vest and goatee holding a bottle of beer and giving a thumbs-up, accompanied by the caption, "WE'VE GOT BOTH!" Okay, wev.

Driving past tonight, I noticed that the "GOT BOOBS?" billboard has indeed been pulled down, and replaced with a new billboard that has two pictures of giant baseballs where the word "BOOBS" used to be. So now it says (give me credit, I'm trying here), "GOT ( )( )S?"

I see three possibilities for interpretation, listed here from most to least obvious:

1) The intended message is, "GOT BALLS?", suggesting that those who complained about the "BOOBS" are emasculated little pussy-men, whereas the owners of the Pony are bold, outspoken rebels who won't be cowed by moralism any more than they are by the standards of good taste.

2) The baseballs are a visual representation of the BOOBS in question. Which is probably pretty accurate, since I expect most of the BOOBS on display at the Pony are, much like baseballs, hard, leathery, and encircled by visible seams and stitches.

3) The dancers at the Pony actually have balls.
8:53 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Saturday, April 28, 2007
It's Educational

I have to get up painfully early tomorrow and make the three-hour trip to Indianola, Mississippi, to do long interviews with one teacher and two high school kids, and then shoot as much B-roll as I can cram into what's left of my daylight. I'm really not looking forward to it, and yet I am. I always sort of dread this work in anticipation, but I know that once I actually get into it and find my groove, I'll enjoy it a lot.

The last time I interviewed teenagers (for this same project) it was pretty agonizing -- black teens aren't particularly inclined to speak freely and honestly to a 30-ish white woman they've never met before. So tomorrow I'm going to try a different approach: I'm making sure their teacher, with whom they've already established a rapport, is on hand, and I'll be experimenting with interviewing them together as well. The theory is that they'll have enough that's familiar around them to get them to open up a little bit. It won't be a terribly intimate or in-depth interview, obviously -- that can take months or years of relationship-building to pull off -- but if I can just get them to say more than three words at a time, I'll be thrilled.

I've spent most of a year now watching my main subjects change from college kids into teachers. I've gotten to spend a little time in each of their classrooms, and I've talked to them about what the job is actually like (as opposed to what they thought it would be like). I've spent more time thinking about the educational system in this last year than I have since I left high school myself. And if there's one thing of which I have become absolutely convinced, it's this: our system is completely and irrevocably fucked.

I always did very well in school. I don't think I ever once pulled off straight A's, but I was always (or almost always) highly regarded by my teachers, placed in honors classes and G&T programs, granted special privileges both explicit and implicit, offered access to every high-level academic exam, and placed at the proverbial head of every class without question. By and large I managed to do it without breaking a sweat (math and chemistry were the exceptions), in spite of changing high schools over and over and over again. I scored a 32 on the ACT, which was in the 99th percentile that year. I got special recognition and my share of awards, and during my senior year my previous rural high school treated my National Merit Semifinalist status like it was the second fucking coming -- I was the first the district had ever had. I was objectively a very bright girl. And yet, it always felt hollow to me. I didn't feel like a fraud (isn't that how insecure smart kids are supposed to feel?), but I felt like none of it meant much, really.

For one thing, I was only doing what I was told to do and nothing more, and it came easily for me, so it wasn't a big deal. Other kids worked much harder than me and were still written off as mediocre. Doubtless some of them really were, but not all of them were. I remember one boy who was in all remedial classes -- he was functionally illiterate and innumerate, but he could look at an engine and understand it instinctively; he was a genius when it came to mechanics. And yet I was the smart one and he was the slow one, only by virtue of differing talents. But what does my assumed intellectual talent mean when someone who's obviously as talented, in a different way, is written off as an inferior mind?

Sadly, the situation in which I came up was still far better than the one that exists now. The kids in the delta are given only one objective: pass standardized tests. Their teachers, who are mostly good, generous people who take a genuine interest in all of their students regardless of their talents or abilities, want very much to teach in the expansive, challenging way that I always most appreciated when I was young. But they're not allowed to teach that way, or not much. The teacher I'm filming tomorrow, for example, approached his principal with an idea for a program that he wanted to start for his students, and which he proposed to fund himself and run on his own time. The principal turned him down flat. He's brought in his own personal library for his students to read, since they have no school or public library to speak of available to them. He's trying to teach them, and he's trying to engage each of them as an individual, but that doesn't change the fact that for the most part all he's allowed to do is teach to the many tests through which he has to shepherd his many students.

School, according to this model, is at best training for an unsatisfying job in the future -- learn how to do whatever you have to do without complaining, even if you hate it -- and at worst a mere legal formality. How much talent is going unfulfilled in public school these days? Especially in these isolated rural towns where it's assumed that nobody will ever really amount to anything? Shouldn't the point of education be to find and nurture talent wherever it springs up, and not stamp it down in order to numb its possessor to a dead-end life? Isn't a standardized model, in which students are treated like mass-produced products going through quality control, the very antithesis of anything that might support talent?

The other thing that I can't help but notice is that of the most brilliant, talented people I know personally, the one thing most of them have in common is that they are not "educated" in the conventional sense. They are each and every one of them highly skilled and learned in their particular fields, and often objectively expert in spite of a lack of formal training, so I don't mean to suggest in any way that they aren't intellectually fully-realized. But none of that is the product of what we normally refer to as education. A number of them never graduated from high school; if they did, they never went to college, or never completed a degree. That's not to say that I don't know anyone with a degree (or three) who isn't as brilliant as them, or that every high school drop-out I know is so talented. That's not true at all. But the general pattern seems to confirm that our educational system doesn't foster brilliance and talent. More often, formal education seems to alienate it.

And that seems like a real tragedy. I've been lucky enough to come into contact with some really unconventional educational models, and while there's always a certain amount of "system" involved, and always a requirement that a given student conform to that system to some extent, I know that education doesn't have to be as restrictive as it usually is. I've always taken an interest in alternative models; I'm a big fan of self-guided education; I'm also supportive of unconventional students. The only thing I regret about my tertiary education is that I did most of it while I was still too young to really appreciate or make the most of it. College shouldn't be for recent high school graduates -- for my part, I'd like to see them all sent overseas for a few years, letting them get a feel for the world and their own adult selves before asking them to apply themselves to focused studies. AT 31, I'd love nothing more than to go back for a second BA -- this time in biology, maybe, or computer science. I'm good at studying effectively on my own, but there are some things that only a good teacher can impart. The fact that I don't feel like I have access to that as an adult (which is more down to financial considerations than intellectual ones) is, I think, an absolute shame.

If I had a kid, hypothetically speaking, I don't know what I'd do with them. Some of the most interesting people I've known were home-schooled -- not in the fundie Christian way, but in the loopy hippie way. I knew one girl in high school -- her name was Sage, and she smelled every bit of it -- who was a skilled silversmith at 16. That's fucking amazing; I'd love nothing more for any hypothetical kid of mine. But there are some significant drawbacks to home education -- for one thing, if it were my kid, that would mean I'd have to be home all day teaching them, and there's just no way that's going to happen. The other problem is that it seems much too insular. School is a place where you can come into contact with people who are different from you -- you can be challenged, you have to learn to deal with people you don't like, and hopefully you learn how to appreciate differences for their own sake. Home school, then, most often becomes a place where you can be protected from challenges, isolated from differences, and which confirms to you that whatever you believe is best. That's the very antithesis of education, in my opinion.

I'm intrigued by the Steiner-Waldorf model, but I'm also a little skeptical. If anything, it seems like home school writ large -- it leaves a lot of room for creativity and a child's natural interest, but on the other hand, sometimes it seems as thought the lack of pressure to follow an agenda just becomes pressure in the opposite direction. There seems to be a big dose of borderline woo involved in Waldorf -- the "four temperaments" thing is something to which I don't think I'd be comfortable subjecting a young kid. And a child is forbidden to start reading before age 7? That's just stupid -- if a kid can read before then, and wants to, obviously they should be encouraged. And I think a little bit of pressure to engage subjects you aren't necessarily drawn to is a good thing. I never wanted to study algebra, and left to my own devices I wouldn't have. But that doesn't mean I regret having done it. Math was the only thing in my education that actually made me stretch a little.

Or I could do what most of us do, and send the hypothetical kid to the local public school and hope that they're strong enough to keep their brilliance intact while they're there. The corollary, I believe, is that you also have to be willing to trust them to know what they really need, and sometimes formal education isn't on their agenda. I look at the brilliant drop-outs I know, and I respect their decision to leave; I get it, I understand. I was there myself once, fed-up and bored with a system that was demanding all my time and energy and offering me nothing in return. My last high school counselor told me in 1994 that I was one of only three national merit semifinalists that year to drop out of school, and the only girl to do so. She was trying to convince me to come back to school; instead, it just made me feel proud of what seemed at the time like the most meaningful thing I'd accomplished as an honors student; it certainly meant more to me that the diploma would have. It wasn't the end of formal education for me, but it was a hard break with the standard model, and I've never regretted it for a minute. I wish my entire education had been as unconventional.

I want to hear from the parents and teachers I know on this subject. I'm not a teacher, and I have no child to educate, so my opinions might be too detached from reality. How do you teach your kids, and how do you want your kids to be taught?
5:25 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Wednesday, April 25, 2007
What Happens If I Push This Button?

Gosh, I haven't posted anything inflammatory here for, what, at least a couple of weeks? We've got to do something about that:

Disgusted Beyond Belief, "My Views on Abortion":

I sat there, wondering if I'd at least get my wife back after this. Then 20 minutes passed, and nothing. Thirty minutes. Forty. Forty five. I started to get worried and thought all sorts of horrible things that I will not put words to. Mainly, then, I start to think about the abortion debate. About pro-lifers, in particular. I think about all those meddling politicians that would want to interject themselves into everything that just happened to me, interject themselves between me, my wife, and her doctors. And then I had a strong, visceral reaction. I wanted the mutherfuckers to die. I wanted to rip off their heads and tear out their hearts, because how DARE they play politics with my wife's life?


Obviously, I'm still pro-choice. And I do still say that I'll personally never have an abortion. But if anyone tells me politicians should meddle in what should be between one's doctor and one's self, I'll tell them, politely, to go fuck themselves, and then explain why.

Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps:

It is a mistake to think that early in a fascist shift you see the profile of barbed wire against the sky. In the early days, things look normal on the surface; peasants were celebrating harvest festivals in Calabria in 1922; people were shopping and going to the movies in Berlin in 1931. Early on, as WH Auden put it, the horror is always elsewhere - while someone is being tortured, children are skating, ships are sailing: "dogs go on with their doggy life ... How everything turns away/ Quite leisurely from the disaster."

From An Angry Soldier:

How do I dare say this to you moronic war supporters who are "Supporting our Troops" and waving the flag and all that happy horse shit? I'll tell you why. I'm a Marine and I served my tour in Iraq. My husband, also a Marine, served several. I left the service six months ago because I got pregnant while he was home on leave and three days ago I get a visit from two men in uniform who hand me a letter and tell me my husband died in that fucking festering sand-pit. He should have been home a month ago but they extended his tour and now he's coming home in a box.

You fuckers and that god-damn lying sack of shit they call a president are the reason my husband will never see his baby and my kid will never meet his dad.

Mike Daisey, who recently had some of his work destroyed on stage during a performance by a fundamentalist Christian vandal:

We have been talking for quite some time, making progress, when I mention offhandedly in response to something that I had been raised Catholic.

At this, he makes this little sound: "oh!" It's a tiny exclamation, upward-inflected. I hear that sound, and my heart sinks.

It's a sound of surprise he makes, and of recognition. Of fellowship. And immediately, everything he says is the same, but it is surrounded with a superstructure of scripture--there are supporting arguments from Jesus, the apostles, the whole nine yards. His cadence and language is entirely different, because now he is drawing on over two thousand years of religious writing to enfold and magnify his arguments.

For the first time in the conversation, in my heart, I am furious.

What was I before that moment? I thought we were trying to speak to one another and I was honest with you--but this is your real face, and I only earn the right to see it if I say the right password and get let into your club.

Who was I before? Was I nobody? Was I simply a *liberal*, the word with the hook on the end of it? A dirty, pornographic artist? A purveyor of filth?

No. It's worse than that, worse than labels. I know the truth. I was no one. I was no one to you, not a real person at all--I wasn't real when you destroyed my work, and until the moment I said the magic word I wasn't real. When he made that sound, he betrayed his heart and finally spoke the truth, and I could see him fully. Now I know him, and now he has no power over me.


And then I forgive him. He is very quiet--he is obviously shocked. And I tell him, "I want you to remember that a liberal atheist has forgiven you today. I don't want you to ever forget that, as long as you live, do not forget what happened here. I don't have God behind me, but I speak for myself, and I forgive you for myself, and for you. Never forget this."

He said that he would. I wished him good luck, good luck with everything. He wished me the same.

Okay -- so that's baby-killing, Bush-era fascism, the Iraq war, and Christian douchebaggery. Did I miss anything?
10:15 AM ::
Amy :: permalink

Monday, April 23, 2007
Almost Certainly About Someone Else

If I could get one new tradition rolling -- ignite the meme and watch it spread -- I think I'd want to change how we do birthdays. Don't get me wrong -- I'm down with cake and presents, though my personal birthday preferences are PF Chang's, tiki cocktails, and a late movie. But the whole purpose behind celebrating somebody's birthday, as I see it, is to show them some love, to tell them that you're glad they were born and that you get to know them while they're here. So why don't we do that? Why isn't that part of the birthday thing? We get free ice cream and people have to be nice to us for the day, but of all the days when we never actually tell people that they are loved and valued, shouldn't that be one day when we do? I've already started doing it with my patented birthday posts; I think I'm going to make it an official tradition and see if I can get it to spread.

Today, as it happens, is Earth's birthday. And this is the first time I get to do this for him, so I'm going to lay it on thick. So what shall I say about Earth? I can tell you about a couple of things that almost certainly don't involve him:

Back towards the end of my time in London -- the exact timing is fuzzy, though I can see it clearly in my mind -- I saw a guy on the tube, twice. The first time, I know, was at Embankment station, on the Northern line. I saw him before we got on, walking into the station and riding down the escalators. I didn't see him on the platform, but once we were on the train, there he was, in the same car, standing maybe fifteen feet away. He was tall, slim, dark-haired, bag slung around his body -- not unlike lots of other guys on the tube. But he looked up at me, and he smiled. Not in a "how you doin'?" way, just a sweet, warm smile. I don't know if I smiled back or not... I hope I did. I tried not to stare at him for the short ride to Waterloo, where I got off.

I saw him again a few days later, at a totally different time of day. I didn't even see him coming that time, I just looked up and there he was, smiling at me again. It was striking, y'see, because in the three years that I rode the tube on a daily basis, I don't think I ever saw the same person twice, and I know for a fact that I never got smiled at by the same person twice. In fact, apart from him, I don't think I ever got smiled at by anyone at all. When he popped up the second time, I only remember feeling flustered and not knowing what to do. I guess I just rode to Waterloo again and got off. I've always quietly cursed myself for not saying hello to that smiling guy.

That almost certainly, practically definitely wasn't Earth. But it could've been. He was in London around that time, passing through the districts that I frequented. But still... almost certainly not.

Or I could tell you about a boy I used to watch when I was thirteen years old. My first year in a public school, I was a hopeless, irredeemable dork -- that's what happens when you've grown up in a private school uniform. I was a doofy 6th grader in the Houston suburbs, riding the bus home every afternoon. I sat in the third row from the front, by the window. After picking up the junior high kids, our bus would make the short trip to the high school to pick up the teenagers without cars, and I rode on the side of the bus that faced the school, so every afternoon I would watch the older kids while we waited for Tammy Cross and the other unlucky ones to get on board. There were a few faces I tended to notice over and over. One of them was this skinny boy with dark hair that hung in his face. The details on this one are much fuzzier, but for some reason I associate him with the color yellow, though I don't remember anything yellow about him. Maybe it was just the bus. I didn't see him every day, but I saw him sometimes, and I always ended up watching him when he was there.

That kid probably wasn't Earth either. I mean, seriously, there were hundreds of kids at that school, so chances are slim that that was him. But he was there. We grew up in the same vicinity, and he was at that very high school that year. So you never know, it's possible. But that almost definitely wasn't him.

The year after that, his life spun off in one direction and mine in another. We never met each other, nor did we ever meet in London. No, I only managed to intersect with him in August, from 2000 miles away. I was clicking around, like you do, when his photographs stopped me dead in my tracks. I found out all the rest of this afterwards. I'd say that at the time it felt like a big cosmic pointer -- "pay attention, this person might be important" -- but I don't believe in that nonsense, obviously, so I won't.

Instead, I'll just say that I'm incredibly glad that I finally caught up with him. He's got a brilliant mind, he's shockingly talented, and yet he's very grounded (though not without a bit of a mercurial streak, in my humble opinion.) There's never any sense of guile or dishonesty in this guy -- some people, I'm sure, would prefer he kept some of his thoughts to himself, but I'm not one of them. I don't know him that well yet, but of what I do know, I've seen nothing that I don't like. So what I'll say to him is that I'm glad he was born and I'm so glad that I get to know him while he's here. As short a time as I've known him, he's become one of my absolute favorite people. I consider it my good fortune to be able to count him among my friends, and I hope I'll be able to call him so for a long time to come.

By which I really mean, happy birthday, Earth.
1:11 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Thursday, April 19, 2007

On Monday, I start the job I've been trying to get for a year and a half. Okay, it's not exactly the job I was trying to get, but it's close enough. I'm beginning at the very bottom-most rung of the IT department of the most desirable employer in Memphis, a highly respectable nonprofit organization that does compelling work and does it extremely well. It's a good working environment, and it's populated by more intelligent, educated, diverse people than perhaps any other place in the city. And while I'm starting at the bottom, it's clear that it wouldn't take long -- likely no more than a matter of months -- for me to move up, and from there I could go as high as I wanted.

The irony is killing me.

It's ironic, you see, because I've gotten this job after so much trying, at exactly the point when I've decided to move to a new city. Now that I've given up on what I wanted and found something new to want, I've gotten what I wanted before. I mean, it's fucking typical. Not that it's a bad thing -- getting this job now makes it easier to make the move, and hopefully having it on my resume will be a help in the new city. It's not the line of work I would choose if I could have any job at all, but it's not bad, it's in demand everywhere, and it could eventually support me in a modestly comfortable way. There are plenty of worse things I could end up doing. Even if I don't take the ultimate opportunity this job represents, it's good to have it for now. It's just... it's weird, is all. It creates a lot of tension that I wasn't expecting to feel.

The move I'm planning isn't the most obvious one. I've never been to this new city before, and at the moment it doesn't much look like I'll be going before I actually make the move. I know only a couple of people there, and even those relationships are something of an unknown quantity. I know it looks like a good place -- hell, it looks like the right place -- but I won't really know until I get there. My knowledge of the city is rudimentary and abstract. I have no idea what I'll end up doing there, or what my life will be like, or whom I'll be living it with. For me, this new city is raw potential -- anything could happen, and that means bad things as well as good things. It's risky. I'm doing as much as I can to make sure I can at least begin with a small degree of independence and security, but as excited as I am about, I can't deny that I'm also a little afraid.

Compare that, then, to the situation in which I find myself in the meantime: it's like a big promise of security and comfort. A career in a good and worthy organization, upon which I could forge the life I thought I'd be taking up when I initially returned to Memphis. Back when I first got the idea of moving (or more accurately, back when I was given the idea) the stakes were very low -- I had nothing to lose. Now, following through with my decision means turning down something that many people in this city would consider a major victory in its own right. My mom hasn't minded pointing that out to me once or twice.

But as you know, I have problems with Memphis. And as much as I complain about this town, I do understand that my biggest problem with Memphis is myself. I've been attached to this place since I was 17 years old, and living here for so many years means that I've got habits and patterns firmly established. They're habits and patterns that I don't seem to have anywhere else, but when I'm here I can barely help but fall back into them. I have my little group of friends, and they're plenty for me, so I don't go looking for new people. I have my places and my routines here. It's easy, it's safe, it's comfortable. It doesn't challenge me much. I know who I am here; I've defined myself as I exist in Memphis. And while nobody can know the future, I've got a pretty good idea of what it would be like if I stayed here. It wouldn't be bad -- it would be easy, safe, comfortable, and unchallenging. I could stay with my friends. I could get a place of my own in midtown. I could work my way up the IT ladder, and keep working on my own little projects on the side. I know how to live that life.

Or, I could turn my back on safety, on comfort, on security and familiarity, even on my current definition of myself. I could go somewhere else, somewhere that might bring me loneliness and struggle and dismal failure, but might also bring me an entirely different kind of life -- something entirely more interesting than what I've found here. At the very least, there'll be new people, new places, and (at least for a while) no comfortable habits and patterns to act out day after day.

If you understand me at all, you already know which I'm going to choose. The promise of something new on the horizon is all that's gotten me through some of this dead time over the last year or so; I'm committed to going through with it. It's possible, of course, that leaving this opportunity behind and starting over (yet again) is a horrible, fatal mistake. But setting off for a new place, especially when doing so constitutes a leap of faith, has always worked out well for me, while sticking to Memphis has always left me dissatisfied. I think that if I chose safety and comfort this time, I'd end up regretting not having taken the more exciting chance. I can't imagine ever really regretting leaving Memphis.

I think there comes a point where comfort itself becomes uncomfortable, and when safety and security constitute a real threat. I think I'm at that point.
9:42 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Friday, April 13, 2007
Damn The Torpedoes

Just to let you know from the outset, I have no idea whether I'll actually finish this post. My brain seems to have a big hole where my creamy verbal filling usually resides. In fact, I've been completely useless for anything today. It's not exactly that I'm tired -- I am a bit, but nothing so bad. It's more that my normal daily patterns have been thrown totally out of whack over the last few weeks, and a lot of the little stuff is still lost in the shuffle. The process isn't complete just yet, but I think it will be soon, and maybe then I can get back aboard the blog bus.

I found myself driving through the delta again yesterday, and subsequently thinking about place. It's strange, isn't it, how places have such strong associations -- some of them uniquely personal to me, yes, but also some that seem to extend beyond the inhabitants of any specific time. It's as if places often come with themes attached. When I lived in London, for example, there was a patch of ground that I often traversed on my way to or from school. It was bordered by Covent Garden on one side, Soho on another, and Bloomsbury on the third -- it was around Centrepoint Tower for those who know London, right there where Charing Cross becomes Tottenham Court Road. I always felt uneasy there, and disliked walking there at night. I'd actually detour through Soho (which is arguably the riskier choice) to avoid it; it wasn't that I was afraid, just that the place felt bad. It felt like despair.

Towards the end of my time in London, a fantastic book about the city was released, and I bought a copy just before I left. Within the first couple of chapters, I read about a triangle of land near Covent Garden that was once the location of a church called St. Giles twhich tended the outcasts and rejects of the city. First, lepers; later on, prostitutes, criminals, alcohols, opium addicts. It eventually became the city's primary mission to the homeless. St. Giles stood almost exactly where Centrepoint stands now -- and Centrepoint subsequently became home to what is now London's biggest homeless shelter. Today this same stretch of pavement is occupied by the human run-off from Soho -- addicts who can no longer afford their habits, runaways sleeping rough in doorways, and vagrants making their way to or from the shelter. For more than a thousand years, that small part of London has been serving the same purpose, regardless of what sits upon it. London was full of similar cases -- places that have repeatedly become the locations of hospitals, for instance, or places that have always been markets. It was never because of human intent that places retained the same function century after century -- it just happened that way. It's as if some places are conducive to certain kinds of things, and will always tend to support them. Maybe it's coincidence, or maybe it's force of habit. But it was always as if London had a structure inherent to it, and people simply filled in the outlines.

It's easier to see that structure in a two thousand-year-old city than it is in the new world, obviously. Even the oldest parts of our society are only a few hundred years old -- London was the center of the world when lower Manhattan was still an Algonquin fishing hole. But I think it happens here, too. I've talked about Los Angeles before, and about my theory that illusion is what that city is all about, is its whole raison d'etre. New England has the wisdom of maturity, but can be stubbornly set in its ways. Texas is arrogant and self-important.

So what is Memphis? And what is the delta? Because Memphis is at best only the front parlor of the delta. A few things seem to do well here: hospitals, surprisingly, do very well. Transport is huge in Memphis, and is arguably the reason why the city is here in the first place. I often think that because so much energy is spent moving people and especially things through Memphis, maybe nothing else can find room to flourish. And the inability to flourish is, I'd say, one of the city's defining qualities. The soil in the delta is fertile enough to sustain life that would destroy most other places, but the delta's fertility seems to end with cotton. The overwhelming sense you get among its inhabitants is resigned desperation. Our only other major exports -- art, especially music -- are rooted in desperation. That the delta gave rise to one of the only genuinely American forms is evidence that life will inexorably find a way even in inhospitable environments. But the blues aren't exactly a sign of a thriving, vibrant place.

And I was thinking that I've been going backwards for much too long. I don't mean "backwards" in linear terms; I mean, for the past X years, every move I make seemed to take me back to someplace I'd already been. It began in London -- in 2001, I took a few months off to save some money and came back to Memphis while all my friends stayed on for their final term. I worked, I got in a car wreck, I took a boyfriend, I dumped him (not in exactly that order), and ever since then I've been going back and back and back. Back to London, which was never quite the same. Back to Memphis, then to LA -- which was new to me, but the move was still backwards in the sense that I was going in large part to join friends from London. Then back to Memphis, then a short stint back in Vermont, then back -- again -- to Memphis. And here I am.

The last time I returned was the hardest. I'd resumed a past life in New England in the hope that I might find a future there as well, but was discouraged by the palpable sense that I just didn't belong there. It seemed like I did -- I fit in perfectly in southern Vermont -- and doubtless I could've stayed if I was determined to do so. But it never felt like there was room to grow; there was no sense of possibility. So I came back here, where at least I was somewhat established and life was familiar. Suffice to say, it hasn't gone quite as well as I'd hoped. And honestly, we could've seen it coming. I shouldn't have been nearly so eager in my dread.

So okay, now what? I'll never be a Londoner again, I'll never be a New Englander, I'll never be an Angeleno. I'll always be attached to Memphis -- I love this place, in spite of my ambivalence. But this is no longer home. I know I'm done with going backwards -- I've given it a good five or six years, and I find myself right where I was when I began.

I think that leaves me with only one reasonable option.

PS: Yes, I'm making a big fucking meal out of not saying something.
9:04 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Monday, April 09, 2007

I didn't plan to go off on another multi-day uppity-atheist tear, but yep, this strikes me as being very close to the truth:

MOST CHRISTIANS: There are good, rational reasons for believing in a creator God. For example, the argument from design, the argument from answered prayers, and the argument from the historicity of the Bible, among others.

DAWKINS: These are not good arguments. Here's why...

SOPHISTICATES: You're such a village atheist. Sure, God belief looks pretty silly if you try to provide actual, rational reasons for it. But you haven't even laid a glove on notions of God that don't involve Him actually doing anything, and who has precisely the properties He needs to have to be immune from all rational inquiry. You can't refute that God, can you? So on what basis do you conclude that God does not exist? Huh?


This is exactly what it's like to sit down and try to discuss the existence/nonexistence of god with an intelligent, educated, moderate believer -- the kind of person who's cool about everything else, but who gets into a thinly-veiled self-righteous snit whenever you make a move toward their religious beliefs. They portray themselves as being open to debate -- what rational, thinking person would avoid a civil conversation about a matter of universal import? -- but if anything they most often come across as more intellectually dishonest than their fundie peers. At least the fundamentalists will tell you what they believe in -- it'll be laughably ridiculous, but it will at least be concrete. A progressive, moderate Christian only ever seems to believe in something that isn't whatever you're talking about at any given moment, or else something so abstract that it's unassailable by reason or logic. It's the god-as-magic-ether ploy.

[Salon]: So when you think about the God that you believe in, how would you describe that God?

[Pagels]: Well, I've learned from the texts I work on that there really aren't words to describe God. You spoke earlier about a transcendent reality. I think it's certainly true that these are not just fictions that we arbitrarily invent.

(Elaine Pagels in Salon, via Pharyngula)

No words to describe God? How terribly convenient for him. How will we ever prove or disprove something we can't even describe in human language, let alone describe accurately? This wily trickster god is too smart for us, cunningly making himself so insubstantial that his very lack of presence makes it impossible to prove he's not there. I guess we all might as well give up and worship him, just to be on the safe side.

What I don't understand is how a vaporous god still requires anything like worship, or what possible meaning such worship could conceivably retain. Either the people doing the worshipping actually do believe in a concrete, personal god and just won't admit it (because that would open up their beliefs to the demands of reason), or else worship is just a kind of spiritual masturbation performed to make the worshipper feel good, but not much else. Or am I missing something?

PS: It's been said better by others.
11:10 AM ::
Amy :: permalink

Sunday, April 08, 2007
The Blood Of The Lamb Turns Milk Magically Chocolately!

Easter is where Christianity really breaks down for me.

I get Christmas, you know? I don't think it ever actually happened, but I understand the mythic appeal. I get much of the rest of the essential story of Jesus, even though I don't think he ever existed in any form other than an amalgamation of older mythic/folkloric figures that was perhaps overlaid onto the identity of someone who has since been entirely lost to us. But Easter -- I just draw a blank.

There seem to be two differing attitudes towards Jesus in the amorphous theological blob we call "Christianity": on one side are the people who believe that it was Jesus' philosophy that mattered most, with his death either a symbolic gesture tacked onto the narrative after the fact, or else largely irrelevant; and on the other are those who believe the death was the important thing, and that everything that happened between the nativity and the crucifixion / resurrection was just a nice bit of filler to move the story along. One side is all peace and humility and love for your fellow man; the other is all blood and guts and sadomasochistic glee. I worry about that latter group, but Easter is definitely their holiday.

I'm cool with the pagan part of Easter (though every year I wonder how the Xians manage to so willfully ignore such a blatant indicator of their religion's profane origins), mostly because it's fun, I'm not expected to actually believe in it, and there's chocolate involved. Some people, however -- mostly those from that second group I mentioned above -- aren't down with the combination of chocolate and Jesus. Bill Donohue, for example, didn't think it was a good idea at all. What I can't quite get my head around, though, is how producing a free-floating chocolate Jesus is a horrible blasphemy, but producing a million semi-solid chocolate facsimiles of the implement of Jesus' gruesome demise and selling them at Wal-Mart as a tasty celebration of Jesus' loving sacrifice is okay.

I mean, that shit just doesn't make any damn sense. You know the situation has become confused when the pagan chocolate bunny is the non-controversial choice.

Other things to make Bill Donohue have kittens: Cheesus, Zombie Jesus, and the too-fucking-perfect Jackhammer Jesus. The power of Christ compels you, indeed! (Don't click that last one, Mom.)
6:57 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Thursday, April 05, 2007
Peachy Fookin' Creamy

Everything's coming up roses and daisies for me lately -- it's good news followed by better news. I'm having to do my part, no doubt, but I'm beginning to feel a palpable sense of direction; I'm feeling positively propelled. (And when I start to indulge in alliteration, you know I must be excited.)

No details yet -- those will come later. For today, let's just say that things are looking up.

PS: Bonus points to the first commenter to correctly identify the person in this still (the sitting figure, not the ass -- though if you can also correctly identify to whom the ass belongs, I'll respect you even more) by character name, actor, the title of the film from which this still was taken, and what any of that has to do with the rest of this post. (Hint: it's one of the best British films ever made.)

PPS: Don't say I never do anything for you, Nelson.

PPS: Heh! By uncanny coincidence, this very film is going to show on IFC in about ten minutes (11:45 PM Central). What better hint could you ask for? And at the very least, you should seriously watch this film if you haven't seen it. It's amazing.
7:33 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Wanted: Inspiration

Sorry for the dead air, kids -- I've got nothing. My mind is currently entirely occupied by PLU codes. It's not even worth talking about.

I've got a couple of free days coming up, though, so... anybody got any requests?
8:51 PM ::
Amy :: permalink