30 May 2016

0 going south

there's a tension to being in america. and by "america," i mean the south, which is and always will be "america" to me.

i bang on about how we can never know other people because we can never know ourselves. this is the problem of being in america: i know.

in sitting amid breakfast conversations that make me intensely uncomfortable. in being at lunch and attempting to relay facts about what happened at chappaquiddick in the face of burvil's total conviction that the way she believes it happened is the way it was. in hearing my uncle express thoughts with which i do not agree and in such a way that i cannot engage in discussion of them because to do so would leave burvil believing i'm a hard-lining atheist.

there are so many ways in which one feels shut up. so many moments when my soul contracts in revulsion with the realization that the horrible thing casually uttered is a part of why i am the way i am. because i grew up here, in all that.

steeped in all these conversations punctuated with reminders that it is so easy to be a whore and a sinner and to disappoint everyone. in this stew of conviction and conspiracy theories and states' rights and literality. all this chatter in which no one listens to anyone else.

that sounds melodramatic.

this is why i hate writing about the south, why i said i would never write about the south. because it's impossible to write about the south without sounding melodramatic because melodrama is not just our natural register, it is the point from which we begin. it is our normal. seared into you along with the speech patterns and the biblical interpretations and that particular variety of heat that explodes out when you open the door of a car that's been sitting in a parking lot in memphis for twenty minutes in late july.

there is no room for nuance here. there is only one way.

it is not coincidental, i am nearly sure, that i constantly search for multiplicity. that i bristle when people suggest there is but one option. that i need to feel things are impossible to get anything done. and that i've a tendency to burrow into the places demanding the greatest possible nuance.

it is, i am nearly certain, an instinctive response to this sense i had of the environment i grew up in: that there are no alternatives and speaking is an impossibility, as is being heard when you do.

on my birthday, i wished i was in paris. i am where i am, but i wished it nonetheless.

there's a liberty in paris, unavailable here.

for that matter, there's a liberty anywhere else that is unavailable to me here.

there are these things called "spite houses." a building constructed to spite the neighbors or anyone with stakes in the land. the spite house is intended to block out light, to anger.

it is a defiant symbol. it is often very ugly, and it appears to be, primarily, an american phenomenon.

i realized the other night at dinner- with an equanimity more surprising to me than the realization itself- that donald trump will be our next president.

it has a second meaning in the south, "spite house." it refers to the custom of consigning a disgraced relative to a second, smaller home located on the family lands. there, this relative lives out her days alone as punishment for having brought the family into ill-repute.

writing about the south always carries with it the threat that this is how i'll wind up.

27 May 2016

0 my american life

last spring- when i was deep into my OMG, i just wrote about an entire life in less than two years... life is going to pass soooooooooo quickly and we're all going to die phase- i began matter-of-factly throwing out, in casual conversation, the phrase "well, we're all going to die". mostly with N- the person with whom i spent the most time and with whom i most frequently had conversations wherein this fact might need to be pointed out.

as this is kind of not a conversational topic traditionally introduced over lunch, the horror with which she first greeted this declaration remains a vivid memory.

but, in the intervening year, it's a statement i've evidently repeated to such an extent that it has become normalized. to such a point that, when zoolander 2 was preceded by an advert that included mention of mortality, N leaned over and said, with glee, they sound just like you!

a comparison about which i have mixed emotions because do you really want to be the friend known for constantly reminding everyone they are mortal?

(though, this could mean that, when i die, they will put on my tombstone: she was right.)

i bring this up now because i am in mississippi and just wrote an email to N.

an email wherein i mentioned:

* last night, burvil and i made floral arrangements for our relatives' graves.

* today, i am driving burvil to the cemeteries to refresh everyone's flowers.

* tonight, debo and gary are going to a funeral in memphis.

* on sunday, for my birthday, we will be eating the fried chicken from the gas station, a bucket of which someone brought to joe's funeral and with which, at that time, we all become obsessed.

two of the best things i have ever eaten in my life were enjoyed at funerals. what does this say about me?

sensei and i once likened the south to a haunted house and ourselves to rhett butler. the south, we said and wrote, is littered with extant remains. of which, as rhett butlers, we are keenly aware.

as southerners, we live our lives being careful not to disturb the bones.

we were talking and writing about the confederacy and our appalling heritage. but the bones exist on other levels.

my american life is curiously funereal. in a way that, i sense, other people's maybe are not.

which isn't to say that everyone else in the family runs around spouting reminders that we're going to die. (though garebear does do this.) just that there's, if not exactly a comfort with death, an acknowledgement of its everydayness. and the impulse, in its everydayness, to dress it up and, maybe, even make it a little fun.

perhaps this is simply to do with hanging out with people in their 60s and 80s, but i seem to remember that it has, always, to some degree, been like this. my parents have, after all, been discussing their DNR since 1996.

the impulse to fun up even the most appalling things is very my family.

whether the application of this impulse to the idea of death is to do with coming from my family or my family's coming from the country or a combination of both, i do not know.

(i do wonder if our hick tendencies are, perhaps, stronger than we believe.)

regardless, when burvil and i were digging through the pile of flowers that she and debo salvaged in their various dumpster diving adventures, it was fun. as it will be when i get behind the wheel of the buick she used to pick me up in from kindergarten and, failing to consult a map or get directions, we set out for a cemetery burvil can never quite remember how to find.

this is our normal. wherein everything is an adventure.

that this is our normal is also probably deeply strange. which is maybe what makes it less grim than it would otherwise be.

in the face of death, we adventure. knowing we will one day die, we salvage silk flowers from dumpsters. doomed, we feast and craft.

25 May 2016

0 homeland

and, lo, i have returned to the land of my birth: where people clap when planes land and sing 'god bless america' as they deplane. 

NO LIE. i assume TSA alerted them there was an ambivalent american onboard, initiating a patriot plan wherein everyone acts as though we're in a propaganda musical entitled proud to be an american.

this photograph of my eleven-year-old self continues to best illustrate the emotion. 

12 May 2016

0 garebear bday

i'm reminded of why i'm weird...

and the prior precarity of the birthday pie situation...
which had nary a space not containing a candle and required a cookie sheet for the overspill.

0 k.low

some days ago, k.lo asked me to revamp a website bio that she presented under the subject line "yuck" and later described as "garbage."

opening this file today, i was greeted by what is undoubtedly One Of The Greatest Biographical Sentences Of All Time.

"Kristen is a hopeless romantic, drawn to the enchanting power that comes with being a hairdresser."

it is my new ambition to refer to this line in everything i do and say.

hello, have you met my friend k.lo, a hopeless romantic, drawn to the enchanting power that comes with being a hairdresser?

how did we meet? fun story! i was seated next to her at a church dinner ten years ago and we bonded over a love of the film the painted veil and a shared belief that cholera is sexy. she's a hopeless romantic, you see. and i was probably also, on some level, attracted to the enchanting power she possesses, the power that comes with dressing hair. 

you've never had a martini?! my friend k.lo, a hopeless romantic enchanted by the power of hairdressing, and i used to get them every wednesday night. 

yeah, i've read fifty shades of gray. i read it aloud to my friend  k.lo., a hopeless romantic with an enchanting power unique to hairdressers, while we were on a road trip to oklahoma. 

do you see how every story i could possibly tell is enhanced by these details?

in the memoir i will eventually write, she will be: "my dear, dear beloved k.lo, a hopeless romantic, bewitched by the enchanting power that comes with being a hair dresser."

should she predecease me, i will take care to memorialize her as such too.

no lie: i am contemplating changing her name in my phone to this sentence.

it would greatly contribute to my general happiness, i think, and, therefore, the happiness of all.

though, given she's going to be in charge of what kim kardashian would call "my glam" whenever i do have a book to release, perhaps i should play nice. this hopeless romantic is also the most competitive person i know, and it doesn't seem outside the realm of possibility that her hopeless romanticism might lead her to become drunk on the enchanting power of hairdressing and my hair will wind up blue...

11 May 2016

0 if nothing else, when this is all over i'll have a bigger vocabulary

i'd forgotten how wobbly writing critically makes me about words.

in the last 45 minutes, i have defined...

cultural forms
semiotics (for the 10,000th time at least)
excapism (typo, not a word)
"life and times" biography (a sinkhole of unhelpfulness, btw)

i also briefly entertained the idea that the "theory of dynamic permeability and tortuosity in porous media" might somehow be transferrable to my work on media dynamics of life narratives. (it is not.)

and, while i have not yet become so flustered that i've been forced to (yet again) check the definition of ambiguity, this happened:

so all you guys who keep saying we are middle aged can just hush, k? 

10 May 2016

0 telling

when joe died, my father received a series of phone calls from a neighbor.

phone call 1: joe had collapsed.

phone call 2: joe was unconscious.

phone call 3: joe could not be revived.

phone call 4: the coroner had come.

in between these phone calls, my father called my mother to relay to her the information contained in these phone calls.

neither of them called me. they were, they said later, waiting for the story to develop.

the end result of this is that when my father did finally call, the story had not only developed but its telling had crystallized.

this was, by that point, the way this story was told:

plot point 1: joe collapsed.

plot point 2: joe is unconscious.

plot point 3: joe cannot be revived.

plot point 4: the coroner has come.

in speaking with me, my father relayed this in the continuous present and in this order. so that, rather than being told my grandfather had died, i was instead told that he had collapsed, was unconscious, could not be revived, and the coroner had come.

there came a point in this conversation where i silenced my father and said, wait, has joe died? 

it was that unclear. not because it was unexpected- really, it wasn't- but because the story telling was so shifty. there was nothing to hold on to.

if joe were dead, how could he have died over the course of this single phone call?

i thought this was an aberration. i wonder now though if it isn't just the way my parents tell stories in extenuating circumstances or quasi-trying times.

or, alternatively, the way they tell stories for me.

in relaying bad news, my mother and father try to curate the fire, softening the flames through which the bad news will inevitably thrust me. so that, as i stand in the midst of it, i stand there wondering: but, wait, is this even a fire? 

there is a shielding at play here. through fuzzy words, words that skirt the reality and muddle it. making it impossible to discern precisely what is being said but also, i think, intended to make what is being said more bearable.

there is an intent here that does not quite align with the effect.

my father had what appeared to be a fairly significant health scare at some point in the recent past- recent enough that i can't quite remember precisely when it was because the recent past has been such a blur, but it must've some time between my submission and the viva.

he went to the doctor. they found something. it wound up being something treatable, livable, and our lives went on. but the space between the phone call saying they'd found something and the doctor's appointment which revealed what they'd found was punctuated by another of these conversations.

in part, because my mother had planned not to tell me about this and i weaseled it out of her. in weaseling, i was rewarded with a story that made very little sense.

a story that involved all of the words but one, towards which all signs seemed to point.

a story in the middle of which i had to stop her and say, but, wait, is it cancer? 

to which she replied, but you know we ALL have SOME cancer cells within us. a statement from which i do not think one can be expected to draw comfort and one which no one in my family had ever uttered previously, but which suddenly, briefly, emerged as a constant refrain. (praise be that events moved on and my mother has ceased to remind me that we are all made of cancer cells.)

but i am reminded of how three is a tricky number. the impulse being always to two up.

in such cases, someone is left out. i cannot bear for it to be me, possibly precisely because it has so seldom been.

and it seems this is the dynamic when these stories emerge. it is always, in some way, me trying to pry into a story my parents have constructed together or a story they have already passed through without me.

it seems perhaps also that it is to do with temperament. the disjointedness of their stories is not entirely unlike the time debo laid on the bed for 15 minutes before telling me she'd crashed the funeral of claude pascale.

to me, always, the most shocking element of that story has been that she didn't immediately share it upon her return. i know i would not have waited. there would have been a story in me and i would have needed, as soon as possible, to get it out, to tell it and to get it down.

debo holds things close. as the bible says of the virgin mary: "to ponder these things in her heart." or, more likely, to deny, deny, deny as long as possible, then share as gently as she can.

garebear- whose ultimate aim in life is to fix everything for everyone- shares a similar impulse to order the story, to make it make sense, and only then to put it out there.

this points to some other way in which they are like one another and i am not like them.

in which case, of course, i would find their story-telling baffling. coming at me, as it does, full-on, like a fire-ball.



it develops too quickly. the narrative escalation is too steep. there is nothing to hold on.

that this is the way i have chosen to write biographical narrative is hilarifying.

0 #garebeartips for the academic/creative life


09 May 2016

0 "research"

come america, i am hill-ing out.

for real.

i've been quasi-surreptitiously (in that way that NOTHING is surreptitious when one is dealing with debo and garebear, much less their mailbox) donating to the HRC campaign. $5 here and there.

the official line: i am donating $5 in order to get campaign paraphernalia. because "research."

the reality: i really really want hillary to win.

which is saying a lot. because the book developing in my head (which now has an opening line) would be soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo much better if she didn't.

i cannot see the book i will write if she wins. i will write it nonetheless, i can feel it coming to get me, but i can't see it. which, i assume, means she will win, because i always wind up doing the thing i consider most impossible, but then also, her election seems impossible, so i do not know.

the book i'll write if she does not win seems apparent. i can see how it could be so easy.

hell, other people can see it. months ago- back in february, after the iowa primary, k.lo said, it really would be better for your book if she didn't win, wouldn't it? 

it would be better for my book.

how awful a thing is that to live with? a reality, a guilt i feel compelled to assuage $5 at a time and which i write off as "research" because i am obliged to use my parents' mailbox.

i had to tell debo what was coming. so she wouldn't throw away the HRC campaign mailings to which she is, no doubt, now- thanks to me!- privy. because i need them. because “research."

there is, in this, a denial of feeling which, in turns, feels disingenuous.

in spite of the fact that debo knows. we discuss it all the time. 

debo is, as always, my sounding board. she is my patient zero. 

in talking to my mother, i think more clearly than when i talk with most anyone else. 

she was talking to someone the other day. bragging on me, about how i have survived the viva and am "working" on corrections (it is a time in my life unique in that everything work-wise seems to require scare quotes... none of it feels exactly “real"... a course-correction, a purgatory. i had an “Idea" the other day- the idea upon which all of my corrections will hinge upon unless the meeting which i have today is a bomb- and immediately i had to take a 3-hour nap… because arriving at that “idea" was like pushing a stuck vehicle through mud for weeks...

today, i hate jackie… but we are stuck together, the pair of us, for at least three more years if not my whole life. and i can see, far in the distance, how tonya shimmers... tonya will be SO.MUCH.MORE.FUN. "fun". “villains," i have decided, are where it is at. 

in contrast, hillary. god, hillary will hurt. either way, if she wins or doesn’t, hillary will hurt. and already, in knowing i will one day write about her, i look forward to the vacation i will take after the fact.)

debo was bragging on me. she tells me this and i am abashed.

because i am in purgatory, i am correcting, i have no income. only ideas and words and various papers and a list of works-in-progress so long that i must maintain it on a sheet of paper lest i forget one or two or six of the things i am in the midst of working on. 

she tells me this and says she told them about the public weeping sign and they all laughed and it was so hilarious and she is so proud of me and i say thank you, thank you, but can we talk about historical adjacency again?? 

how sick debo must be of talking about historical adjacency, though, of course, she says, yes, of course. 

when i was in therapy, after donovan died, there was a guy in the group who was working on a phd and who was there because his mother had died, and her death had interrupted his creative process. not in the way that the deaths of donovan and joe and martha and the ways in which i blew up my life in moving to london interrupted mine. but in the sense that the person to whom he was most accustomed to discussing his work was suddenly gone.

he could not bring himself to delete sentences that no longer fit with his thinking but which his mother had read.

he could not delete the sentences which she had seen.

he did not want to replace them with sentences she would not see. 

there was a point to be made here about moving on. but there was also a point to be made about the centrality of certain relationships to our work. 

i remember going home that night, after he revealed this, and profusely thanking debo for having heard me out for all of these years. for having listened to all this drivel. for having let me develop something out of this nonsense so that i can now sit at ritzy dinners across from people who say, ohmygod, i never thought a biographer was something one could be and i can nod and say, yes, yes, it is. (kindly eliding the harsh reality that it is something out of which one can make a life but from which one will struggle to make a living.)

i explain the difference to her, between historicizing and historical adjacency, and i say, wait, wait, i need to write that down, and she remains silent because, after 3.5 (10+) years, she is used to this. 

and i am reminded of those horrid months after grad school when i thought i needed to know what i was going to do with my life and didn't, and i was living with debo and garebear and would get up at dawn and write and then race downstairs in my pajamas at their first stirrings and manically pour out to them all of the ideas i'd had in the intervening hours, between my waking and theirs, and they would say, yes, yes, no, that sounds like it makes sense. 

a situation curiously still repeated whenever i return to memphis and remain jet-lagged the full two weeks, setting up camp at the kitchen counter and writing between the hours of 3 and 8 a.m. upon waking, my parents are, again, subjected to the full report of what i have been up to and subject to an interrogation regarding their thoughts on what i've thought. 

more and more, i realize i have maybe had the most indulgent, perfect parents.

lindear once pointed out that i was terrifically lucky not to have had a sibling who wanted to be a doctor or some such normal, extant profession. because, in such a context, i would appear a total flake.

in the context in which i exist, to my parents, i am a constant marvel.

that is a rare gift. i know. oh man, do i know it.

by way of reward, i sign them up for an inundation of hillary clinton memorabilia. 

debo is, by this point, accustomed to being used for "research," to being a soundboard and to being a story. when i tell her HRC stuff is coming, she doesn't even sigh. i say, research, and she says, ok.

i email garebear and say all i want in the world for my birthday is an HRC shirt, because "research." and garebear, god bless him, peruses all of the HRC shirts on offer and replies asking if i wouldn't prefer the logo shirt rather than the slogan shirt to which i had sent a link, and also what size i am.

the only question remaining is this: 

double hillz earrings? 

or hillz and billz?