Sunday, June 27, 2010

first impressions.

The summer is unfolding as a catharsis, in the shape of huge moth wings.

On Monday, Jenna (my first official Austin friend!) and I jumped into Barton Springs at about 3pm. You'd think the water would be warmed by the Texas sun; no, it's freezing. I kind of felt like I was completely letting go as I jumped in.

I'm learning my way around here, slowly but surely. I'm reading a lot, and the writing is coming easier. Amazing what a completely clean slate will do, eh?

Austin is officially home for now. Still, I find myself surprisingly excited to go spend a few more days Louisiana-way. I'm a LA/TX girl.


Friday, June 25, 2010

first step.

Ack, life happens fast! I'm headed out today for the first-stage move to Austin, TX. (Final push is July 10). So...for anyone who does care (and bless you a million zillion times if you do!), we're talking a bit of a blog hiatus as I get organized. But then maybe it'll be more exciting than ever...?


Monday, June 21, 2010

summer solstice dance party.

FYI: Today, June 21st, is the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere. It's officially summer! It's the longest day of the year; supposedly crazy shit can happen on this day. So be careful. But also dream big. William Shakespeare called today "Midsummer"; in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," he wrote, "Whatever is dreamed on this night, will come to pass." Many cultures believe that it's the most magical night of the year, in fact.

This afternoon I had an Abba attack. You read that right. It happens every once in awhile; I inherited this tick from my mother. She used to sing "Fernando" to sing me to sleep at night. My uncle walked into Starbucks today as I was blaring my ears out; I said to him, "I don't know how I'm going to work this Abba energy out." He replied, "Maybe it will help if you talk about it? When did it start?" I told him, about five minutes prior. He laughed and had no solutions.

My favorite?

Don't go wasting your emotions. Lay all your love on me.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Work it.

First off, cheers to all the fathers out there. This morning I presented my own father with another one of the silk Hawaiian-print shirts he loves. I gave up trying to persuade him against them long ago. Whatever makes him happy, eh.


In 1994, John Berendt, a self-professed “Yankee” writer, pulled Savannah, Georgia, into the national cultural consciousness with a (literal) bang; Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, often mistaken for a novel but purely NON-fiction, is the sexually-charged tale of a murder allegedly committed by a member of Savannah’s elite circle. Anyone who reads the book, though, quickly realizes that far more important than the trial that Berendt documents is his overall literary interpretation of the city as perhaps the most southern place on earth. Berendt is not a historian (and I say, thank God in this case), so he doesn't really contextualize his work within any broader cultural, political, or economic claims about the South. He doesn't have to. Presenting a cast of beyond-eccentric characters, Berendt proposes that Savannah is a city lost within itself, isolated and forever caught in the gardenia-scented, gin-soaked mores of a mythic Old South that other places have fought to erase. He presents the one picture southern historians don't want to see. There is no progressive narrative here, and no one's even got a progressive agenda up their seersuckered sleeve. It's not a post-civil rights South, which is the South we all want to believe that we live in now.

Berendt is clearly the outsider in his own story, a willing carpetbagger; he, in turn, attracts Savannah’s odd-ducks like flies on peach juice. Some of them want to flaunt their peculiarities as if those oddities were sparkling tiaras (for a few, they actually are!), to show an intruder like Berendt that they can thrive only in a place as untouched as Savannah. The city might still be shrouded in a less-than-pretty past, but at least it allows individualism to flourish. Right?

Hmmm. If we are to believe that Savannah is actually Berendt’s southern gothic Savannah, then it is a place where blacks still stay away from whites for the most part, where the police will turn an eye to wealthy men driving with cocktails at the helms of their Cadillacs, and the hypocrisies of homophobia still thrive the way they did in, say, 1954. The best-written character in this book is the one we're sure is no-part fabrication; "The Lady" Chablis, who befriended Berendt and showed him the ropes around the city's seedier nooks, is very much a celebrated (black) Savannah Drag Queen whose mouth is as dirty as a bucket of mud. But she also takes stock in her status as a southern "lady." How does this place operate, with the gentility of a dusty noblesse oblige living next door to the elite's worst nightmares (i.e. conversing about sex, conversing about same-sex sex, having both, you get the point)? It just does, Berendt insists, and Savannah patriots don't want any help from the outside. Questioning anything would mean addressing bigger problems--racism, class-ism (it exists), raging poverty and persistent random violence.

I think Berendt writes out real stories the way that historians often should. Without the albatross of footnotes, as a writer he's able to present a sequence of events the way his mind has processed them. A few facts might be tweaked, but they're tweaked to make the story fuller, more visual, more compelling. It's emotional. I would rank Midnight in a top-ten list of works of southern history (and then I'd take unending flack from my colleagues, and maybe be expelled from the field altogether), but there's one thing about it that really bugs the hell out of me. And it bugged me even more during this most recent reading.

So Savannah residents fear change, huh? They fear outsiders? They also don't WORK in this book. Berendt is told at the beginning of his visit to stay securely within the city's main borders. So I understand why he doesn't, say, visit the paper mill nearby on the Savannah River. But did he really not encounter anyone who worked there? Because I'm pretty sure that even in the 1990s Union-Camp (formerly Union Bag, later International Paper) employed thousands of locals, both black and white. Lots of folks who work part-time in the city's flourishing tourism industry also pull hours at the mill.

Even more surprising is that Berendt doesn't discuss the industrial side of Savannah at all. Not one word. Didn't he smell the sulphur in the air? Paper mills in places like Savannah can be smelled from the highways; residents get used to it, but outsiders notice it right away. Anyway, I'm not going to dwell on his omission. My point is that the city's industrial leaders, and workers for that matter, pretty much demanded the help and guidance of an outside world starting in the 1970s. That's what the entire second half of my dissertation will be about; Ralph Nader sent it an investigative team in the summer of 1970 to test the Savannah River for pollutants and help residents gain the upper-hand against Union Camp. The elite that Berendt writes of? Yeah, the Old South-ers turned their heads. But workers, and some families who'd seen their drinking water darken, and fishermen and tree farmers in the periphery...they sure as hell wanted help to fix raging environmental problems. They had the gusto to address racial concerns as well. Imagine that (ironic voice)! A group of black workers filed a discrimination suit against Union in the 1980s...and won.

But Berendt's book confirmed the graying prophecy of main-square(s)-Savannah. In a way, he kind of lets those old white boys win. Without the smokestacks, it makes sense that Savannah could be an island. But with them...well, hello modernity and its problems. I guess that's where I come in.

End scene.

I still love the book, for the recond.

[ the 1997 film adaptation. It's directed by Clint Eastwood, and it's John Cusack at his khacki-clad best.]

Friday, June 18, 2010

Email is the new letter/a phone call is the new lunch date?

Hey, I'm just as guilty as the next person when it come to facebook. It's part of my life, daily. But I haven't read anything, until this, that so eloquently sums up the social changes the website has wrought.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

the pursuit.

Summer days are long, and allow for much pondering. I had tea yesterday with a dear, dear friend who has offered me important guidance at transitional points in my life. She and I spent awhile discussing the value of expanding and nourishing the internal monologues we have within ourselves. And I realized something. For years of my adult life, I've given myself flack for the analytical nature of my own thoughts. It's time that I stop. Sharon helped me understand that those of us with the will and the ability to analyze ourselves, learn from our mistakes, and build the narrative map of our own lives...well, we're the lucky ones. A life unexamined, well, what would be the point of that?

I was also reminded of a conversation that I had with a friend back in Athens a few months ago. We sat on a couch and, for hours, I kid you not, ate grapes and tried to answer this question: "Will we ever be able to know, for sure, what's going to make us happy?" An empty bowl and two headaches later....we came up with a resounding "no." What makes you happy today, in this moment, that's so easy to understand! Dreams are also easy to conceptualize; in fact, they're often the beauty in the everyday. The problem lies in expending too much energy obsessing over our future selves. I can say with confidence that quite a few things that I thought would make me happy even three years ago are no longer on my radar at all. Hell, there are things I longed for three days ago that now seem like islands floating out in the abyss.

So what's the pursuit of happiness, then? I think, more than anything, it's understanding how we process our lives. It's an intimate, personal thing, coming to feel happy. It's the ability to maintain and control ourselves even amidst chaos. It's confidence. It's an understanding that life can throw us anything at all, anytime it wants. It's the knowledge that we've become the best we can be in this moment. Don't those moments feel damn good?

I think it's kind of exciting to NOT know what will attract us in the future. I adore surprises. I say, bring it on.
For the hell of it, here's a list of the things that make me really happy, right now: homegrown tomatoes (this is their peak season, they're so juicy, and you can center any meal around them), afternoons of writing (some days more fruitful than others, admittedly), iced coffee, snatching up new reads at Barnes and Noble, early evening jogs, facebook messages from friends (old and new), music exchanges, v-neck t-shirts, ball point pens, fresh notebook paper, the smell of gardenias, and organizing my photos into albums. Here's a rec, too: Sharon and I shared a pot of my favorite tea of all time, Angel's Dream. It's a blackberry and maple blend, good hot or iced. Buy some here:,1004.html.
Catch ya laterrrrrr.

Monday, June 14, 2010

musical summer.

Music is energizing me this summer more than ever before. I'm discovering great new stuff everyday, blaring it in my car in the sunshine, and drawing inspiration from it to write. Sending recommendations out into the world is a great joy of mine. So here's the first of what I'm sure will be many summer playlists to come...

1) Vampire Weekend, "Diplomat's Son" (from Contra)//off their latest album, which takes some adjustment but is just as fantastic as their debut. This song has some particularly addictive beats and background vocals.

2) Deer Tick's cover of Sean Kingston's "Beautiful Girls"//No joke. John Macauley's voice is incredibly gruff, the band's sound best described as grunge-y folk. This cover is random and odd, but wonderfully so.

3) Passion Pit, "Eyes as Candles" (from Manners)//I'm angry because their shows in Austin this summer are already sold out! This song has a strange tinge of an 80s pop on its edges, love it. Crazy-catchy chorus..."Why do I always need to need you when, when you're fleeting?"

4) Eric Hutchinson, "Rock and Roll" (from Sounds Like This)//Had this recommended to me recently; immediately liked Hutchinson's gentle guitar/thoughtful lyrics.

5) Spoon, "Don't You Evah" (From Ga Ga Ga Ga)//This song IS summer for me. Windows down, sunglasses on, mouth the words in sync with blatantly narcissistic nods of your head. This is also dedicated to little Will Berry, that precious 3-year-old in Athens, Ga., who replies to his mother (my dear friend Franny) with this phrase sometimes: "Don't you evah!"

6) The Decemberists, "Summersong" (from The Crane Wife)//A given. I mean, come on..."I taste the summer on your peppery skin."

7) Yo La Tengo, "Here Comes My Baby" (from Fakebook)//This song will make you want to dance down a street...and if you're me, it'll make you want to dance down the street toward a cute little dude who's singing this to you!

8) Broken Bells, "The Ghost Inside" (from Broken Bells)//Continue to be obsessed with this band. I missed their show in Athens, sadly, last week. But I heard it was amahzin!

9) The Corrs, "Summer Sunshine" (from Borrowed Heaven)//Gotz no shame in loving The Corrs; my friend Brian is the most dedicated Corrs fan EVER (I have no statistical proof, of course, but I'm pretty sure I'm right) and gifted me all of their albums last year. This song is incredibly joyful...and it's well-constructed pop.

10) Band of Horses, "Ode to the LRC" (from Cease to Begin)//BOH oldie but goodie..."The world is such a wonderful place, la de da de da!"


Saturday, June 12, 2010

(More than the) Second time around

Today I began my--and I'm guesstimating here--seventh reading of John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I came across it when I was twelve (not long after it was published, in 1994), and my mom watched wide-eyed as my little eyes soaked it up in a couple of sittings. Murders and the sultry heat of Savannah, cemeteries, hoodoo, prostitutes...basically, this novel is a late-twentieth century take on the Southern Gothic; that my twelve-year-old self was already processing the pitfalls of the southern myth versus the southern reality...well, I don't think it shocked anyone. Least of all my mom. My mind may have developed some of its social skills a little later than others in my cohort, but the literary chasms of my brain sprouted wings by the time I made it to the third grade. So we'd stroll through Barnes and Noble (still a haunt of mine) on Saturdays, and any book that struck mah fancy...well, she humored me.

This one stuck with me, through high school, then through college. I would have had no way of knowing the significant role it would play in my writing career and research. Kind of like the print that hung above my mother's desk while I was growing up; I didn't realize until last year, after I began my dissertation research on the Savannah paper industry, that it was of the Hermitage Plantation (the property that Union Bag and Paper built their mill on in 1936). The symbols of a New South built, literally, on the ashes of the Old...watching my mother work in her wood-panelled office all those years. Oh, irony. Now it's my bread and butter, unraveling the narrative of a modern southern economy whose denizens still hang so much of their symbolisms, their politics, and even their diets, on the images of an older order (that are simultaneously nasty and beauitfully mysterious). I've yet to decide if Savannah really is the hothouse that Berendt writes of; but my indecision tells me that it must be pretty damn close.

Maybe this seventh reading will open even more metaphorical windows and doors. I'll let ya know.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A travelogue...made of people.

[My favorite photo from the trip; our feet in Venezia.]

It was Brook Silva-Braga’s 2007 documentary A Map for Saturday that set this recent trip in motion. (Sadly) little-seen outside of a self-selected twenty-something set, Silva-Braga’s film is a year of his own life on film, more truly raw and humble a travelogue than you’ll find in any written form. In it, he offers that traveling is like piecing together a map for the eternal Saturday; waking up to a whole new world everyday. He follows other “extreme long-term travelers” as they jump from one youth hostel to another in the world’s most beautiful places, touching each others’ lives and journeys along the way. It’s a messy existence, emotional and oft-surreal, but it’s proof that it’s never too late or too difficult to jump far beyond the lines we all draw around ourselves. It’s the kind of inspiring montage you can really get behind; hear these travelers talk, see them sunburned and joyful, or sometimes tearful, and you’ll know immediately that there’s a whole world you’re missing from your couch. I watched it on a hot summer evening last year, and by the end I was sweating and crying into my beer, both with possibility and the anger that I’d never had the notion to take myself anywhere. It would take almost a year from that point to gather the guts (well, and the funds) to take a journey. A few weeks ago, my beautiful friend Catherine and I flew from Atlanta and landed in Rome, set to circle through Italy in two weeks' time. Two weeks, we quickly realized, was not nearly enough time. So we grasped every minute, good and bad--the fatigue and the joy, if you will, tired feet and too many beers, the smiles and the tears as we encountered places and people we never imagined.

And, you know what? Silva-Braga is right. Americans spend most of their time gathering money to buy things they never have time to use; isn’t some of that money better spent on collecting experiences? Travel doesn’t have to be a four-star, save-up-for-three-years kind of thing; it can be, actually, the here and now. There are people out there to meet, to learn from, and infinite venues within which to do it. Here are a few of our experiences.

At a cafe in Napoli, third night of the trip. We met up with Catherine's brother David there, and his lovely wife Meg (pictured below). I wish we had a photo of our Napoli hostel host; Giovanni opens his home (nestled in a 700-year-old apartment building) to roughly twenty young strangers every evening. He made us feel safe in a city that isn't cozy. Napoli is old and stunning, but it's also scarred--by graffiti, crime, and a frenetic bustling.

Here's the crew we made in Firenze. Three Americans, two Canadians, one Brit, and one Aussie. We were all staying at the same hostel--a place called Emerald Fields; on the way from the train station, Cath and I joked that we didn't quite know what to expect with a name like that. And we'd already been attacked by bedbugs once on the trip (no comment). But we found that Emerald Fields translates to "hostel miracle"; we lived out some of what Silva-Braga's film is all about. We gathered on the back patio, shared wine, and within a few hours the group was cemented in a way that only this kind of travel allows. Everyone arrived there from different places, and we were the only ones traveling in a pair. These travel-warriors were all on their own, for months at a time some of them, and they inspired me in ways I won't even attempt to put into words. I fell in love with Florence. It, and these people, stole a piece of my heart that I gladly give up.

This may be the most representative photo of me ever taken. I look exactly like my mother here. I'm bleary-eyed and caffeine-deprived, first thing in the morning. This was my first cappuccino in Italy, by the way. (in Sorrento)

We were, with great joy, reunited with part of the Florence crew a couple of days later in Roma. We made plans to meet up at the Trevi Fountain at 4pm on that Saturday. Catherine and I reveled in how cinematic that sounded. And we wondered if it could actually happen. It did. Here's us with Keven, almost the very moment of the reunion.

At the Piazza of the People in Roma, second-to-last night of the trip for me and Catherine. Post-dinner, but before the bulk of the vino. Patricia, Keven, myself, and Juan (from Colombia, via the UK); Catherine took this spontaneously and loves it. I do as well. It's us caught up in a moment we probably couldn't even have imagined would mean as much as it does. At least for me. These are moments, memories, that I hope to keep with me forever.

Such smiles!

Catherine and her sister-in-law, Meg; this was back in Napoli. We drank, ate dinner, and then stumbled about in the city as it lit up at night.

Venezia! One thing I loved is how many dogs (with owners, no worries!) roamed about on the cobblestone streets. I love this photo because it captures, more than I've ever even seen in myself before, pure joy. To be winding through the narrow streets of Venice, stopping to buy scarves and eat gelato, Catherine by my side...well, it was picture-perfect.

Amy and Dan, last night in Florence.

No comment?

Mask-shopping in Venice.

We went to Pompeii for the third afternoon of the trip. It was hot, my feet hurt, but walking through the ruins was a singular kind of experience. Like being inside every world history textbook I'd ever had plopped in front of me at school. As we were leaving, rain broke into the sky; Vesuvius lit up in this blue/green gloomy light, and I cried a little.

One of the thousand reasons I fell in love with Florence.

Lazy late afternoon in Roma...with a lot of beer. The light made the pictures that day look blue.

Beginning of the trip, in Napoli, so we had tons of energy. But this photo sums us up rather well; we were a little team for two weeks, trudging through, raising our arms in excitement more times than I could count.

Sharing sites with people, those intimate moments of travel during which your mind and your entire heart might be confronted, tested...well, that's surreal. Share them with people you JUST met, and it'll blow your mind. For me, it's proof that there is such a thing as synchronicity, some kind of force that brings the right people together in the right moments.
See you all back out there soon. I'm just getting started on my map for Saturday.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

In brief: Hemingway on planes and trains, and Annie Lennox

A mini-study in surprises!

One) I was pleasantly surprised to see that most international travelers still carry books with them. Actually, really surprised. One would think that with all the Nooks and Kindles and Ipads...well, old-school, bound-up stacks of real paper might be deemed too bulky by many. I've even had such a thought recently. After all, the airlines pretty much charge you for every centimeter of space you breathe in these days.

On the way to Italy a few weeks ago, bleary-eyed and marginally claustrophobic as our jet took off, I felt oddly comforted by the sight of paperbacks, bends in spines and all. Hell, I'd planned to watch movies, drink complimentary chardonnay, and doze off at intervals. Here, these other coach-folks were planning on tackling Austen above the Atlantic, or some Dan Brown, and one person even Joyce! Oh, how I underestimate all of us. All this business about it being doomsday for the printed word...I cry rubbish. People aren't giving up their tactile experiences so easily, nor, apparently, their literary ones.

I made it through only about five pages of Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast (some might call it "minor Hemingway"?) on the plane. The language is slow and almost lust-y, like molasses, unlike most of work; it wasn't until I'd come down from the high of the trip that I was able to give it real attention. I sat in the (surprisingly empty) dining car of an Amtrak train, inching through Alabama, my journey almost over, and soaked the words up. If I were a poet, I would write a sonnet about Hemingway on a train.

Two) I harbor no shame in loving Annie Lennox. She's outdated, of course, remembered now mostly in hazy, boxy images of shaved heads and red lipstick (basically, she's a mental montage of the 1980s). People forget the pop sensibilities of her work in the 90s. Americans do, anyway! Imagine my surprise when, on a stroll past the Forum on our last day in Rome, I hear strands of "Walking on Broken Glass"...louder, louder. My walking companions must have imagined I had a seizure. I skipped ahead, elated, mouthing the words like a kid with a hairbrush-microphone. The song was coming from street speakers, set up for some sort of event, but there it was...unabashed, in broad daylight, one of the best pop songs EVER...

"Take me from the wreckage, save me from the blast//lift me up, and take me back//don't let me keep on walkin' on broken glasssssss....ooh ooh..."

Back in the real world (which I call anything that is not Italy right now), I'm in gelato-withdrawal, and I'm trying to write a little bit every day. Summer is in full-swing, of course, which means high humidity indexes and burning sun around here. Texas will be even worse. Or better, however you perceive of sun.

More to come...

Friday, June 4, 2010

The return

Rather unceremonious for everyone but myself, I know, but my return to the states from Italy Jaunt 2010 has wrecked me for the better. So much to write about, and so much to tell. Most of it will come out over beers with close friends in the next few weeks. Some of it will make it here, some to pieces of paper that will then become lost most likely. All in all, a life-changing two weeks that will infiltrate every tiniest part of my life for the foreseeable future. Photos to follow, including a mini travelogue.