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In the Distance Fading December 13, 2010

Posted by monty in personal.
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Tomorrow I make the long drive up I-75 to Ohio.  I’ll travel through the beautiful North Georgia and Tennessee mountains, across the Kentucky wastelands (a state that is, as far as I can tell, waaaaayyyy more racist than I even imagined Georgia would be), and up the interminable I-71 corridor from Cincinnati to Columbus, where, in that two-hour stretch of hell’s roadway, I will get my fill of strip malls, barren fields, and megachurches.  This will be my first Christmas since my parents moved out of my childhood home, and I’m surprised at the lack of nostalgia I feel.

I had a lot of good years in that house.  I lived in it from the age of 6 until I went to college at 18; summers for the next four years were spent there; and I visited once or twice a year for almost 15 years after that.  Even if I don’t feel a particular attachment to the house itself, I’m surprised that I don’t feel more wistful about the land that surrounded it.

Growing up, I’d disappear into the woods behind the house for hours at a time.  I’d tell my parents I was having “adventures,” and I’d go tearing into the woods with a stick as a sword, or else I’d cram my grandfather’s old fedora on my head, attach an imaginary bullwhip to my belt, and go make like Indiana Jones for a while.  I’d spend the afternoon dodging poison ivy and running myself ragged across the shifting mosaic of light and shadow on the ground.

Or I’d be out amongst the whispering stalks of corn in the field next to the house.  When I was little I’d wend my way out to the middle of the field and lay down between the rows and watch the swaying tassels superimpose themselves on the cerulean sky overhead. In the fall and winter, once the harvest was done, I’d go out into the field and scavenge.  I didn’t know what I thought I’d find, but I was hoping the tractors and combines would have churned up something valuable from the earth.

Lots of good bike rides started from that house.  The patchwork of flat country roads provided me with a seemingly endless number of routes to take, and I’d start off on my ten-speed Schwinn with no particular destination in mind.  When I think about how hyper-sensitive parents are now, it’s surprising to remember how I’d tell my parents I was headed out on a ride and then I’d just disappear for an afternoon.  Sometimes I’d explore roads I’d never traveled before, sometimes I’d ride the couple miles into town, sometimes I’d ride until something that was clearly demanding to be explored caught my eye.  I remember spotting a stream I’d never noticed before, parking my bike under a tree by the road, and then following the stream for an hour or more until it emptied into a marshy area in the middle of a field.  I was probably 11 or 12 at the time, and my parents had no idea where I was.

I entertained friends and girlfriends there.  I went through elementary school, junior high, high school, and college there.  I parked several different cars in the driveway’s turn-around and left the house on summer mornings for half a dozen different shitty high school and college jobs.  I raked leaves, mowed the grass, and helped my dad the high school principal clean toilet paper out of the trees.  I camped in the backyard and ran through the sprinkler and its dewdrop rainbows in the front.   I shot hoops in the driveway and hit tennis balls off the garage door, hour after hour.  I discovered that if I flooded the garden in the back yard with the hose, I could make the perfect swampy battlefield for my G.I. Joes.  I chased fireflies through the velvet dusk of summer evenings and felt the frost crunch under my shoes as I trudged across the grass to catch the bus on winter mornings.

Before too much longer I will have spent more time outside Ohio than I did inside it, yet part of me still thinks of myself as an Ohioan.  Here in Georgia, whenever I hear somebody say something or act a way that sounds or looks particularly “Southern,” part of me can’t help but think, “Thank goodness I’m a Northerner,” ignoring the fact that I spent the last 15 years in California, which has its own peculiar set of rules governing etiquette.  These feelings of “Northern-ness,” the identity I have, and the way I conduct myself – all of it is inextricably linked to that house and the things I learned there as I was growing up.  In fact, much of who I am can’t be separated from where I grew up.

But for all that, I feel no particular attachment to this house, no wistfulness or sadness that I never had the opportunity to say a proper goodbye to that part of my life, the part where I learned how to be who I am.  It feels like I owe that place something.  It’s the place my parents chose to raise my brother and I, and the place where they stayed after he and I left home.  It saw us both through school, through graduation, through grad school; through my dad’s retirement; through my mom’s cancer, her remission, and the cancer’s return.  I can’t figure out if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, to want to feel nostalgic for something.  The desire to feel is commendable, but the lack of feeling seems problematic, as though I’m missing some component that other people just automatically have.  I don’t know what it means, but as fondly as I remember that place – home – I can’t help but describe it in this way, for better or worse:

My parents lived there for a time, and so, too, did I.

*****

Current listening:

Pulp – Separations (1992)

Each Time Is a New Time April 10, 2010

Posted by monty in Uncategorized.
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I didn’t really intend to shutter the blog. As I usually do, I just sort of lost interest for a bit. A new semester started with a new class that I’d never taught before, I increased my daily running mileage (and, as a result, my daily time commitment), and I generally got tired of the sound of my own voice. It happens.

It’s funny to look back on some of my posts from late 2009 and early 2010 and consider how much and how little things have changed in the last four months.  On the one hand, health care reform passed, the Jay Leno/Conan O’Brien dustup is just a memory, and I’ve watched nine more movie adaptations of Stephen King’s books.  On the other hand, the right wing is still losing its collective shit over every single thing Obama says or does, Fox News still resembles a bunch of lobotomized monkeys poking a deflated volleyball with a stick, and Sarah Palin’s speeches still sound like they were composed after she spent ten seconds playing with one of those magnetic poetry kits.

And Nigel died.

This was tough.  He was always sort of a lazy cat, but in early February he appeared even more listless than usual, not even appearing interested in his daily snacks.  When I listened to his breathing, it sounded like he wheezing, so I took him to the vet.  She immediately noticed that his ear flaps were tinged yellow, a sure sign of liver problems.  She said they’d keep him for a couple days, run some tests, pump him full of fluids and medicine, and take it from there.

The next morning I got a call that he had died during the night.  Turns out he was even sicker than he thought.  Feline leukemia, which the vet suspects he had when I got him five years ago, caused liver damage that didn’t show up until it was too late.  Nigel was easily the most affectionate, even-tempered cat I’ve ever seen, and it still bothers me that he died among strangers.  Yeah, yeah, I know he was just a cat, and he didn’t really know what was going on, but still.  It’s not right.

The upshot (although I probably shouldn’t call it that) is that I now have Toby.  Named after David Cross’ character in Arrested Development, Toby is, to put it in clinical terms, insane.  He’s now about six months old, and I’m waiting desperately for the day when he grows out of his “I’m a kitten and I’m going to destroy everything in your home” phase.  I believe this is also the same phase that allows him to decide, at 4:00 every morning, that it’s time to play.  It’s also the phase that includes him climbing into the refrigerator whenever I open it, severing the pull-cords on my window blinds with his teeth, and tormenting Maggie, my other cat, to the point of a nervous breakdown.

The two of them are almost – almost – friends.

Also, as evidenced in the previous photo, I bought a new pair of pajama pants in the last four months.  Fun times in the big city.

That’s it for now.  I won’t promise daily updates – the semester is winding down, after all, which means an increase in reading and responding to student work – but I’ll give it a shot.  I also intend to continue the usual features I’d started in my last go-round: Cinema Sunday, Song of the Day, reviews of Stephen King movies, and the fledgling Perfect Movie Moment.

Much hilarity will certainly ensue.

Current listening:

The Delgados – The Great Eastern (2000)

Current reading:

Norman Mailer – The Naked and the Dead (1948)

Last movie seen:

Date Night (2010; Shawn Levy, dir.)

Anywhere I Lay My Head October 19, 2009

Posted by monty in travel.
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11 comments

california

I’ve gotten good at introducing myself in the last three months.  As part of the new job and the new location (in the metro Atlanta area), I’ve had to explain numerous times where I’ve lived for the last fourteen years.  Whenever I say I moved here from California, the response is always a variation on, “Ooh.  Sorry you had to come here.”

Hey, Georgians.  Psst.  C’mere, and I’ll hip you to a little-known fact.

California sucks.

That’s right.  I said it.  Now, look: I’m not impugning your right to love the state.  I’m speaking only about myself here.  And I’d be the first to admit that there are many, many things to love about California: Yosemite.  Joshua Tree.  Mono Lake.  Mammoth.  Anza-Borrego.  Death Valley.  Vast expanses of desert.  Wind-whipped beaches.  Geologically speaking, the state is one of the most amazing displays of natural beauty you’re ever going to see.

Unfortunately, to enjoy those beautiful places, you also have to put up with mind-numbing traffic.  Pollution that’s starting to creep farther and farther out from the city centers.  A public education system that’s collapsing in on itself like a dying star.  A populace that voted for Schwarzenegger and against equal rights for gays and lesbians (which also means, on the latter issue, a populace dumb enough to be swayed by Mormon propaganda).  Big-city douchebags in the metropolitan areas and rednecks to rival anyone in the Deep South in the rural areas.  There’s also a general callousness that gets mistaken by many for that renowned “laid back” California attitude.  But having been there, that’s not what it is.  Just because you don’t care about anything but yourself doesn’t make you laid back.  It makes you an asshole.  And I saw a lot of that in my fourteen years on the West Coast.

And, you know, having typed that, I think that’s a big part of my problem with California: the ego that says California is the center of the universe.  I hate to point it out, but the things that make California amazing have absolutely nothing to do with Californians.  California is great specifically – and only – because of its geography and geology.  There’s nothing else it has that I can’t get elsewhere, including where I currently live.

This doesn’t mean, lest you make the mistake, that I’m now a dyed-in-the-wool Southerner.  I don’t feel anymore at home here than I did in California.  The point I’m making is that California isn’t a special and unique snowflake.  The rest of the country has great museums and fantastic restaurants and concerts and live theater, and they get the benefit of all those things without the omnipresent threat of wildfires and mudslides and earthquakes and sitting in traffic for two hours just to go ten miles.

But maybe I’m just irritable and impatient.  Maybe normal people are willing to put up with inconvenience just to be near the things they love.  And, like I said, there are certainly things I love about California.  It was nice to be thirty minutes from wine country.  It was nice to drive a couple hours and be in the mountains.  It was nice that I could begin and end my run looking out at the ocean.  It was nice that the nighttime desert sky let me in on the vastness of the universe.

I love those things, but I don’t miss them.  And as much as that reflects the state’s shortcomings, I’m also willing to admit that it reflects my own restlessness.  But the rest of the country need not apologize for not being California.  The rest of the country does just fine on its own.

*****

Current listening:

Tindersticks bloomsbury theatre

Tindersticks – The Bloomsbury Theatre 12.3.95

From the Ritz to the Rubble October 1, 2009

Posted by monty in civil rights.
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ancestors

I’m not sure what I expected when I moved from the West Coast to the Deep South a couple months ago.  Someone handing me a banjo when I crossed the state line?  A complimentary lynch rope when I signed the lease to my apartment?  Tobacco-chewing hillbillies on every corner telling me I had a purty mouth?  All of the above?

One of the recurring problems in my life is that my expectations of new experiences are invariably formed by watching too many movies.  My prior knowledge of Georgia extended exactly as far as Deliverance, modulated by a healthy dose of self-righteous liberal indignation at the racism I believed to be inherent in the South.  There was, of course, no real basis in my own personal experience for these ideas.  I had exactly two previous exposures to Georgia, neither of which gave me any authoritative knowledge of the state or its people.  When I was ten or eleven, my family drove the length of the state on our way to Disney World from Ohio, and last January I was here for two days for a a job interview.

Even with this limited experience, I still had some fairly specific ideas about what my life would be like in the South.  Whether it’s the lingering legacy of the Civil War, the injustices visited upon Southern blacks in the first half of the 2oth Century, or the stories – some, unbelievably, as recently as June of this year – of segregated proms, I figured I’d be dropped smack in the middle of a hotbed of racial intolerance.  Besides the cliché of Southern hospitality, I think the other stereotype of the South carried by people not from the South is of racist rednecks dressed in bedsheets burning crosses.

Turns out – probably not unsurprisingly – that this perception of Southern racism isn’t entirely accurate, and the fact that I so firmly believed it to be true is evidence mainly of my naivete.  The town where I live now is pretty much like any other suburb – a leafier, greener version of the places I lived in California, and almost exactly like where I grew up in Ohio, only with a funny accent – and the people I encounter seem pretty much like people everywhere else.  The campus where I work has a large student population coming from a healthy mix of cultures and backgrounds, and there’s no discernible tension between the different groups.  It’s not uncommon to see interracial couples in stores or at the movies, and they seem to be going about their day completely hassle-free.  I know that in some ways this astonishment marks me as the real backwards rube in this situation, but at the same time I have to wonder how and when this atmosphere of tolerance evolved.  History shows us it hasn’t always been this way, and – as I mentioned above – segregation is still very real in some places.

As pleased as I’ve been to discover that Georgia is generally more accepting and tolerant than I thought it would be, there’s one thing I still haven’t gotten used to: the discomfiting regularity with which I see Confederate flags.  They fly in the front yards of otherwise inocuous-looking ranch-style homes; they’re emblazoned on bumper stickers and license plates; they’re proudly displayed on t-shirts worn by overweight men and women whose pendulous bellies stretch the flag precariously in either direction.  It’s rare that I don’t run errands around town and see a Confederate flag somewhere. And this bothers me.  Really bothers me.

I saw my fair share of the Confederate flag growing up in a rural part southwestern Ohio.  The southern part of that state is really more Kentucky than Ohio, and I have vivid memories of seeing the Confederate design on flags and shirts and cars, and even on the cheap, magnetized locker mirrors you could win at the county fair.  As my interest in civil rights developed throughout high school, I listened to the debates over what the flag actually represents now that we’re so far removed from the end of the Civil War.  Then, as now, the appearance of that symbol frustrated me, and just as most people wouldn’t dream of flying a Nazi swastika as a sign of pride, the divisive nature of the Confederate design (and the racism that is inextricably linked to it) seemed to preclude it being waved seriously by anyone with an ounce of compassion.

I know there are some who still say the Confederate flag is a symbol of states’ rights, or of resistance to unprovoked Northern aggression, or whatever.  I’m not a historian, and I can only speak to what the symbol means to me, as a run-of-the-mill white guy who doesn’t really have any cultural or familial baggage associated with the flag: it makes me deeply uncomfortable.  I don’t understand, either from a logical or an emotional point of view, why someone would associate himself with that symbol, unless he’s racist.  And, for better or worse, that’s my first impression whenever I see someone displaying a bumper sticker like the one at the top of this post.

Maybe it is just a sign of Southern pride.  But I don’t think it’s any coincidence that a local store flying the Confederate flag out front is also flying a flag with the white power symbol on it.  As much as my new home has surprised me (and pleasantly so), I feel in some ways like I’ve walked into David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, where the bucolic facade hides an intractable rot beneath.

(And, thanks to this post, my Google search bar is now littered with phrases such as “Georgia KKK,” “Georgia racism,” and “white power flag.”  The sacrifices I make.)

*****

Current listening:

LogoAIR09-Reflets5

Air – Love 2