Friday, January 07, 2011

You can kill the dreamer, but you can't kill the dream.

I just finished reading Hellhound On His Trail by Hampton Sides, subtitled: The Stalking of Martin Luther King Jr and the International Hunt For His Assassin.

Before reading this, I admit I was woefully ignorant of any of the facts, forces, mythology, or context of the MLK murder. I knew it was in Memphis, I knew he was here because of a garbage collector strike. That's about it. What Sides does so well is wrap this event in an almost novelized form to give it so much context and life. Alternating chapters highlighting James Earl Ray (and his whole cadre of aliases and fake identities) and MLK, the book builds incredible suspense up to the point of the assassination, and then beyond, as the FBI begins a weeks-long, international hunt for JER. He tries to escape to Rhodesia to become part of a white supremacist paradise that supposedly exists there that he's read about in various nazi and white power magazines.

I really enjoyed reading about JER's fucked up life and the incremental steps it took him to end up murdering Dr. King, but what I enjoyed most of all were the history lessons. Sides is a native of Memphis, and fills the book with all kinds of sociological and political background on why it was such a powder keg of a city. Unlike other black majority cities in the United States at that time, Memphis was once the epicenter of the cotton trade, and had made a lot of white people extremely wealthy, while paradoxically keeping the large black population subservient and in poverty, but employed, nonetheless. (In a somewhat perverted irony, the old "Cotton Row" of South Front Street in downtown Memphis, where white landowners had all of their offices, is now a mile of renovated, upscale condos full of rich white people overlooking the river.) Up until the early 1980's Memphis had a huge celebration, on the scale of Mardi Gras, called the Memphis Cotton Carnival with a King, a Queen, a Royal Court, and a huge barge that would float down the Mississippi with Egyptian-themed decorations to pay homage to the only city in America named after an African capitol.

Cotton Row downtown Memphis

When the cotton jobs dried up due to automation, more and more Delta blacks moved into the city to try to find work. Very little was available except service jobs, and one of the biggest employers was the city itself, in the form of garbage collectors. It was the death of 2 workers by being crushed in their faulty trucks that led to the 68-day garbage strike that was the nexus of the murder of Dr. King.

Another interesting subplot of the book was James Earl Ray's obsession with George Wallace. As Sides describes Wallace's political activities, whether it's intentional or not, he sounds a whole lot like another base-rousing, divisive Republican politician who is the de facto leader of the party, but who party elites don't like because she can't win a general election. I'm just sayin.

It is interesting to me, though, not being a particularly adept student of history, that the arguments conservatives use today are the same arguments they used back in the 60's against civil rights: state's rights, the tyranny of the federal government "cramming" civil rights "down our throats." Wallace was part of a 3rd party American Independent Party hellbent of taking the White House and repealing the gains of the civil rights movement. In a biography of Wallace he is described as "the surly orphan of American politics... the grim joker in the deck, whose nightrider candidacy is a rough approximation of the potential for an American fascism." He called President Johnson's civil rights legislation "an assassin's knife stuck in the back of liberty." And about the riots that swept Watts and other cities, he liked to say you could count on "pointy-headed intellectuals to explain it away, whining that the poor rioters didn't get any watermelon to eat when they were 10 years old."

It would be really shocking if it didn't sound so similar to so much of today's conservative rhetoric. In fact, only one month after King's assassination in Memphis, Wallace held a comeback dinner there (he had dropped out of the presidential race briefly when his wife died of cancer), with 13,000 participants, to rekindle his race.

Nobody can accuse George Wallace of having too much class, that's for sure. No one thought he could actually win in 1968, but that he would have enough power to potentially spoil the race. Life magazine declared, "In both the North and the South, Wallace appears to be tapping a powerful underground stream of discontent."

It is true, kids, this is why we study history. Everything is cyclical, is it not? That, more than anything, is what I found so interesting about Hellhound. Not that I think we're going through anything nearly as traumatic as the civil rights movement of the 60's, but really, the parallels are eerie. And ultimately, we came out of that okay. The book actually make me feel strangely hopeful.

King's death was the first time Wall Street ever shut down to honor a civilian. It was the first time flags all over the country were ordered flown at half mast for a civilian death. Hellhound is that rare work of art that is full of pathos, dread, heartbreak, desperation, hopelessness, despair, and yet still comes out hopeful and stronger for it at the end.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

My 2010 Book List

I read 51 books in 2010, falling short of my goal of 52, to average a book a week, but still I guess 51 isn't so bad. I wanted to rank my top 10, but I find that almost impossible (I know, that's supposed to be part of the fun, I get that), and also I'm really lazy, so instead I will simply present my 10 favorite books in alphabetical order.

Some are new, most are old. Most are fiction. I considered making 2 lists, one of fiction, one of non-fiction, but I didn't read too much non-fiction this year. It was somewhat of an anachronistic year for me in that way. Maybe due to the fact that I was working on my own writing this year for the first time in a long time, I devoured me some fiction.

So without further ado, here is the list of my favorite books I read this year, fiction and non, in alphabetical order!

by Christopher Isherwood

I have to admit, I was drawn to this book after seeing the movie, which was remarkably loyal, right down to much of the dialogue. What the movie doesn't get, however, and why books will always be better than movies, is the internal monologue of the narrator, a middle-aged English professor in California mourning the death of his longtime male lover in the 1960's. He is angry but witty and perceptive. And mostly he's exhausted, fed up with American greed, capitalism, and self-entitlement. A heartbreaking and also hilarious little novel.

BELOVED by Toni Morrison

One of the most frightening and moving books I've ever read. After the Civil War, a "freed" female slave murders her own daughter rather than see her be kidnapped and exploited by the "white man." The daughter's ghost haunts (literally) the rest of the novel and her relatives. A furious novel, and in typical Morrison fashion, full of brutal violence, both physical and spiritual, but also redemption and hope.

CITY OF QUARTZ by Mike Davis

Subtitled Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, Quartz is really a social and cultural history of Los Angeles, including its politics, in which I realized that L.A. is actually a very conservative, segregated, and hostile city. Not at all the liberal, dreamy Utopia it's sold as (maybe that's just Northern California, and I confused them). Nevertheless, it's a fascinating and thorough history of that gleaming city, through the eyes of a religious socialist.

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

This was my year to read a fair amount of Young Adult fiction, but nothing stuck with me like this book. Set in a near dystopian future, where America's youth are randomly selected each year to live on a deserted "island" (really an elaborate television theme park/studio) a la Survivor, and kill each other off one by one, for the viewers at home. The winner gets some sort of special prize, I forget what exactly, but it's not important. Kind of like Battle Royale, if that movie had been made by someone with a heart, not to mention a brain. The concept isn't unique, nor is the thesis, but it's the great characters and almost unbearable suspense that make this book resonate. Violent and disturbing, but it doesn't feel gratuitous or mean-spirited. For some reason I haven't gotten around to reading the sequels yet, but I will.

LIGHT IN AUGUST by William Faulkner

Starring the unforgettable Joe Christmas, this has so far been my favorite Faulkner novel (of course I've only read 3). Like all other Faulkner novels, it's impossible to describe, but concerns itself (also like all Faulkner novels) with race relations/racism in the South; extreme religion; mixed identity; murder; and possibly latent homosexuality. A pretty fun and wild ride.


Actually kind of a nice contemporary companion piece to Light in August, this Southern Gothic yarn concerns a very precocious (but not in the typically annoying fashion usually found in literature and movies) tween girl searching for her little brother's murderer. Creepy as hell, and totally engrossing and atmospheric, it's a perfect summer read. It'll still never replace The Secret History (Tartt's first novel) in my heart, but it makes me wonder why she isn't more prolific. It's too bad. Just based on those 2 novels, she's one of my favorite contemporary novelists.

METHLAND by Nick Reding

Anybody wanting to understand a major facet of the swirling rage and despair currently circulating through American culture and politics, could do worse than to read this book. It goes a long way to explain the loss of entire ways of life in this country, and what that has meant for small-town America and the folks who inhabit it (or don't anymore, because everything they have has been lost). It's bleak, to be sure, but also showcases one small-town mayor making major strides in his attempts to refashion his small farming community ravaged by unemployment, drugs, and violence into something new and more palatable and sustainable.

REBECCA by Daphne de Maurier

The classis gothic suspense novel upon which the very famous Hitchcock movie is based, although I watched the movie after I finished the book and I thought it sucked, a major snoozefest. As with A Single Man, so much is lost in the film translation. There is a plot, but the suspense and terror is truly to be found all in the protagonist's head, as she grows increasingly more paranoid and unsure of her own experiences and judgment, as she goes slowly crazy in a giant, empty castle that may or may not be inhabited by the ghost of her new husband's dead wife.

STORY OF MY LIFE by Jay McInerney

I can't help it, I have a soft spot in my literary heart for the 80's Brat Pack, and McInerney has quickly risen to belong in my top 5 favorite contemporary authors. A fictionalized account of one Rielle Hunter who McInerney dated for about 5 minutes back in the 80's, he claims to have been so fascinated and appalled by her and her friend's completely self-absorbed and amoral behavior that he had to write a book about her. Told in first person from her point of view, she has one of the funniest, most glib and flippant voices I've ever read. I was laughing out loud through parts of this novel, but I highly suspect the real Rielle Hunter was never this clever. Or twisted.

TESTIMONY by Anita Shreve

A very contemporary novel about a sex scandal (which goes viral) that rocks an elite New England boarding school and ruins the lives of the 3 boys involved. They are accused of gang-raping a girl, but may have all been set up. No matter: they committed a penetrative act and got caught on tape, and this book is about the fallout. It's incredibly depressing, and I suppose it could be billed as a "cautionary tale," but what I loved about it is the skillful way Shreve jumps around in the narrative, offers different points of view, and deftly untangles how it all ties together. When something like this happens, no one ever really knows the full truth, and no definitive account is ever offered and that seems to be the point. Haunting.

I hope you enjoyed my list, and maybe from it you can find something to read that you might also enjoy! Happy New Year everybody!

Monday, December 06, 2010

If I can make it there

Tom was only gone for about 30 minutes tonight; he left the house to come pick me up from work, which I got out of about 15 minutes later than usual. When we arrived home, a police car was parked across the street, the neighbor's door was standing wide open, and our neighbors who lived across the street (but next door to the house with the cops and the open door) were standing outside. For the 4th time in 3 months, a front door on our street had been kicked open, within a span of 2 blocks.

Then, as I was unlocking our front door to come inside, after chatting with the neighbors for a bit (the neighbor whose house had been burglarized, obviously, wasn't home, and no one could get a hold of her), our house alarm was activated and started going off.

I guess it was just coincidence, as we had been standing on the porch talking for 5 or 10 minutes before coming inside. A moment later, our new alarm monitoring service called to ask if everything was ok. That was comforting. Several weeks ago we left town and returned to our alarm blaring. We had no idea how long it had been going off, but until that point, we just assumed it was being monitored. Not so. It was nice to have the alarm, but if no one gets notified if it's activated, it doesn't do a whole lot of good. So we got a monitoring service a couple weeks later, right before we left for Thanksgiving.

Tom and I have very little of any value (laptops, really, that's about it). If someone wants to steal a shitload of books they can have at em. What I do find unsettling is that if the door gets kicked in while we're gone, my cat will most likely get out, and if we're out of town, that just won't sit with me.

Living in this city has certainly been an exercise in paranoia. Naturally, the security industry here is sitting pretty. Having an alarm is simply a matter of necessity. I've never thought so much about crime in my life. In Austin, I used to occasionally even leave my doors unlocked and not think twice about it (which, granted, probably wasn't very smart, but nothing ever happened). In Portland, in our first, ground-floor apartment, I always locked the door, but again, didn't think twice about leaving all the blinds open all day long, and sometimes the windows too, if the weather was nice. It's a different mindset, to be sure. Someone mentioned once that Memphis would never attract the educated talent that it wants to this city if it doesn't get its crime under control. There may be some truth to that. It would certainly be a factor for me in deciding whether or not to put down roots here.

I don't get too worked up about crime. I guess I'm just an eternal optimist, or I'm naive, or I'm just in denial, but crime just doesn't freak me out that much. Having 4 houses broken into just on a two block stretch of my street in the last 3 months certainly does give me some pause, however.

Tonight makes me sad. The neighbor across the street is just a nice, quiet, probably mid-30's single lady. Last week she put up a beautiful Christmas tree in her front window that glows radiantly at night. The cops said that was probably why she was targeted. What fucking assholes (the thieves, not the cops). one consolation I take from this is that no one was home at any of the break-ins. That clearly means they don't intend to hurt anyone; they just want their stuff. Still a violation to be sure, but slightly less scary.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


The Church of the Immaculate Conception, at Belvedere and Central.

As I've said many times before, one thing Memphis has going for it is beautiful architecture, a lot of which is in pretty bad shape (which is very captivating in its own way), but much of which has also been lovingly preserved. Some of the most striking and inspiring buildings in the city happen to be churches (at least one good byproduct of being such a Jesus Freaky city).

In my quest to document the extremes of Memphis's built environment (both the blight and the beauty), churches have to have a place. I went out on an absolutely gorgeous fall Sunday this past weekend to photograph an extremely small sampling of what Memphis has to offer. The churches I took pictures of are all in a very small area of Midtown, mostly in Central Gardens and the immediately surrounding streets. All these churches are within a mile and a half of my house, so I get to see them all the time.

Idlewild Presbyterian, corner of Union and Evergreen, my favorite of the bunch. It's also about a block from my office.

Close-up of the Church of the Immaculate Conception

Grace St. Luke's Episcopal at Belvedere and Peabody.

Union Avenue Methodist, Union and Cooper, soon to be demolished to make way for a CVS. I will refrain from editorializing.

The arches at Idlewild Presbyterian

And, as always, more pictures (and more churches) are here!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

And About

Inspired by an event in Oak Cliff, Dallas last year, where a young man convinced a bunch of people to come to a decrepit and crumbling block and imagine its possibilities, a friend of mine made a similar thing happen this weekend in Memphis. Broad Avenue, about one block east of where Midtown ends, is a gold mine waiting to happen. Home to a few art galleries, one bar, which happens to be one of my favorites in Memphis, and a couple of restaurants, it's primarily full of empty warehouses that border an ugly industrial area. At night it gets very dark indeed.

A New Face for an Old Broad brought together people from all over the city, including already well-established restaurants and cafes to transform Broad Avenue into a thriving urban street full of retail, galleries, music, cafes, bike lanes, people, and life. At least for a weekend. The idea is to get people to see a mostly abandoned area's potential to support business and encourage street life. Apparently so far it's been very successful. My friend who originally got the ball rolling on this endeavor is already eyeing other strips of crumbling eyesores around Midtown to get the makeover treatment.

Tom with our friends John and Michael. Aren't they cute?

I am loving Memphis right now. The air is so clean and fresh. The temperatures are perfect. The trees are bursting urgently with luminous colors. Everyone is in such a good mood. I also went to the Memphis College of Art's holiday bazaar this morning. Naturally I couldn't afford anything there, but it was super fun to go browse. I did buy one dry-mounted photograph from a series a guy did of an abandoned falling-down theater somewhere in the city. Not sure where it was, but the pictures were beautiful.

After Broad Avenue, I went running with John and Michael on the Memphis Greenline to continue to take advantage of the perfect day. There were so many people out. And I ran 6 miles without stopping!! So far (in my life) my record has been about 4. And it wasn't even that hard. I really like having some running buddies who won't let me quit when I start complaining that my legs are hurting. It felt like an accomplishment, and one that I didn't even set out to do.

Tonight we're going to a birthday party, and tomorrow I'm leaving first thing for Nashville for the Tennessee Counselor's Association annual conference. I'm really looking forward to that!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Memphis Blight pt 2 (Hickory Hill)

My friend Dmitry and I decided today to go out and take some photographs of Memphis. I don't think we necessarily intended to go photograph a bunch of apocalyptic blight, but that's how it turned out. We spent about 2 hours in Hickory Hill, in southeast Memphis.

Hickory Hill has about 65,000 residents and was once its own independent city. In the late 90's it got incorporated into Memphis, and as history has shown over and over in this city, that caused a great deal of white flight, and the neighborhoods, and subsequently the city, went downhill. Its demographics now echo, pretty closely, the rest of Memphis, with the African American population there about 60%. Supposedly it also has the highest Hispanic population of any neighborhood in the city.

Never having been there, it felt pretty solidly middle class and suburban to me. Most of the streets we drove down reminded me of the ranch-style, 1980's-era homes of the neighborhoods in my hometown. Most striking, though, were enormous apartment complexes that had been lost to fire or simple abandonment, often sitting there rotting in the middle of otherwise perfectly benign suburban streets. I've attached some pictures here. Many more can be found at my Flickr site in my Memphis set which I hope to be adding to on a pretty regular basis. With nice stuff too, not just ugly blight.

Habitat For Humanity is building a huge subdivision next door to this acres-wide eyesore.

You see a lot of these on abandoned buildings in Memphis.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Yummy Soup

I've taken lately to reading the blog Poor Girl Eats Well, which I really appreciate the ingenuity of, but it also seems like she uses a lot of moderately poor and processed ingredients in her recipes. They also tend to be heavily meat-based, thereby eliminating many of them right away, as Tom is a vegetarian. Sometimes, though, I'll stumble across one that is extremely delicious, like this one, for a spicy, white bean and beef soup.

Tom and I made it tonight, replacing the beef with Yves Meatless Ground Round, which is probably not especially good for you, but once in awhile it's fine. We also added considerably more kale than she calls for (1 cup; we put in a whole plateful), and replaced the amaranth with quinoa, since neither of us even knew what amaranth was, and naturally our grocery store didn't have any anyway. But the quinoa was fine, and I love quinoa anyway and have been trying to incorporate more of it into my diet.

But the soup is incredibly easy to prepare, cooks quickly, even with the grains, and is DELICIOUS!! It's very thick and hearty, and with just enough spice to have a really nice kick, but not make it impossible to eat. Soup usually doesn't do it for me, and I have to supplement it with some heavy carbs or a giant dessert. Some crusty bread would be great with this soup, but we didn't have any on hand, so some Trader Joe's Whole Grain and Flaxseed crackers went splendidly with it, as we did have those in the pantry. It would be enough by itself, though.

I heartily recommend this warm, satisfying, easy, very nutritious soup. And the portions in the recipe make a gigantic pot. I'll definitely be able to take this to lunch the next 2 days.

Ours looked even more delicious than this one!

Monday, November 08, 2010

I thought I was someone new, someone good

Lou Reed directed the video for Susan Boyle's version of "Perfect Day." That is one of my very favorite songs of all time, and while I don't love the Boyle version, I do think the video is pretty spectacular. Really fits well with the sort of ethereal take on the song, too.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Memphis Blight

Memphis has an estimated 8,000 vacant and abandoned properties within the city limits. Most of these are homes (or apartment buildings) that are unsecured, crumbling, have overgrown lots, and naturally, are magnets for crime. These things keep neighborhoods oppressed (what businesses or people are going to move next door to something like the above, in Midtown Memphis?), property values down, and crime high. Blight is a major factor in inhibiting Memphis's growth, including by keeping crime at ridiculous levels.

New Memphis mayor AC Wharton has a plan. For the last year he has been working with Memphis's top attorneys to bring Memphis back as a true city of destination. Memphis loses, on average, 5 people with college degrees every day. One of the first things he did was appoint a Bike Czar, and pledged to build 60 miles of bike lanes all over the city in the next 2 years, many of which have already started appearing around the University of Memphis neighborhoods. He has lobbied for and received millions in federal grant money to boost public transit availability in the inner city, which now pretty much stands at third-world levels. As opposed to focusing on "regionalism" and the erroneous belief that investing in the region makes the inner city grow (when in fact it is just the opposite: investing in the inner city makes the region grow. You can't have healthy suburbs without a healthy city), he is wholly focused on Memphis, and Midtown in particular.

Last week he announced a very ambitious plan to combat blight, by a first-wave rollout of hundreds of lawsuits to property owners who have let their buildings and lots deteriorate. The Memphis Flyer has an excellent article this week on his efforts. Many of those are lobbied against Wells Fargo, which owns hundreds of properties around the city due to foreclosures and has left them completely neglected, as well as not paid thousands and thousands of back taxes on any of them, depriving the city of much-needed (and deserved) tax revenue.

Though it didn't see the kind of price spikes that occurred in cities in the so-called sand states of California, Nevada, Arizona, and Florida, Memphis has been hit hard by the foreclosure crisis. The city has filed suit against Wells Fargo, claiming that the lending giant engaged in predatory practices against African Americans and damaged the city's property-tax income.

The foreclosure crisis, combined with the economic downturn and negligent owners, has led to blighted properties all over the city. In the last 10 years, more than 80,000 foreclosure notices have been served in Memphis, with maybe half of those resulting in actual foreclosures. There are 8,000 vacant properties in the city, as well as 13,000 vacant lots.

In the mostly African-American neighborhood of Frayser, in North Memphis, the foreclosure crisis has hit very hard. Entire city blocks up there have been abandoned and left to rot, and consequently crime has skyrocketed in that part of town. My own landlord is Executive Director of Frayser CDC, which buys foreclosed properties and flips them (my own current rental home is a foreclosed property, though it's in Cooper-Young) is quoted in the article:

Steve Lockwood, executive director of the Frayser CDC, buys foreclosed properties with the hope that he can get to them before they fall into total disrepair.

"We do foreclosure counseling to try to keep people in their houses. We're absolutely adamant about that," Lockwood said. "But once they come up empty, they've got to be dealt with."

And more empty homes means more blight. As the number of foreclosed homes has increased, the Frayser CDC has had to keep pace. According to Lockwood, they've redeveloped as many houses in the past year as they have in the last seven years.

In his quest to move dispossessed families back into homes, Lockwood often struggles to identify the legal owners of property.

"We've just done one really nice house, and there's a comparable house right next to it that is empty and in foreclosure," he said. "But we can't find anybody who claims to be the owner. In the meantime, we've got an abandoned place that is unsecured, and the yard is waist high. We've got a nice little house next door that we've put a lease-purchase person in. It's a problem."

Over the next year, Mayor Wharton plans to serve hundreds more lawsuits to individual owners (many of which live out of state) and to Wells Fargo. Thank god. Having only been in Memphis a short time, so far it has impressed upon me as being a city with a lot of problems, and is often very scary and intimidating. But it's also a city I've already grown to become very fond of, and it seems to have a lot of potential. Midtown Memphis, where I live, is composed almost entirely of historic neighborhoods, with so much beautiful old brick architecture, and homes, and wide, tree-lined boulevards. The people are so nice and accomodating, and if this city could only retain and attract more young people willing to invest in its long-term livability, I really think Memphis could become a world-class city again. I truly believe that. There is enough diversity, culture and history here to make it attractive to all kinds of people. And as of now, at least, the cost of living is astonishingly low (especially after living in Austin and Portland).

I will write more soon on some of the other grass-roots efforts around the city to make it simply a nicer and more progressive place to live and be. I also want to start a little photo-blog to showcase some of Memphis's more beautiful architecture and design, so much of which is mid-century art deco, and old, early century southern architecture. (For more on this, my friend Dmitry, who just moved here from San Francisco, has some interesting posts, also from the perspective of a non-Southerner who'd never even been to the South before. Check out his blog: true grit.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Did you ever wonder why we had to run for shelter?

Today I have returned from my week-long "intensive" i did for work. This involved spending 144 around the clock hours with 5 other people and doing extremely intense group therapy. Experiential therapy, which is impossible for me to explain. It involved a lot of psychodrama, the acting out of old trauma in individual's lives, lots of role-playing, and generally leaving the participant a trembling, sweating, sobbing mess heap on the floor. It's connected strongly to a person's physical being, and a belief that the physical and the emotional go hand in hand. That your body holds trauma and utilizes it in all sorts of self-defeating ways. Experiential therapy believes that talk-therapy will only get you so far, and that unless you really physically exorcise your trauma, and physically express your anguish, there will be no true healing. Think primal scream therapy. Think physically reliving incest and sexual abuse through role-playing and physically acting out a new outcome.

It will take me weeks to really process what went on there, and I'm sure the reverberations of what I went through and experienced this week will continue to make themselves known in all sorts of wonderful and unexpected ways as I go back to my life. There was a language spoken there, a language of recovery, that I didn't always understand. Every person there was in active recovery, except for me. From extreme eating disorders, to drug and alcohol abuse, to sex addiction that has shattered their life, or some combination of all of those things. Everyone knew my intentions (I was there primarily as a training tool, since this is what my employer does; this week was partly to test whether or not I wanted to stick around), and everyone was still so accepting. It's impossible to convey the unconditional support and acceptance that I both witnessed and felt there.

There was so much pain, laying bare your soul and making yourself utterly and completely vulnerable in front of total strangers. But on the flip side of that comes a closeness and intimacy that is difficult to duplicate or find anywhere else. A real joy had formed in each of our hearts by the end of the week, and a profound love. If I never see any of those people ever again, I'll never forget the gratitude I feel for their sharing their pain, anguish, despair, tears, and trauma with me. For letting me know them so completely and unabashedly.

When I left today the day felt so crisp, so new. Driving my car back through midtown Memphis to my house, the whole city felt fresh and new to me. And I know that in the last week I've felt more compassion than I thought possible, and shed more tears for pain that wasn't mine than I thought possible. And I stood in front of a group of people and let them watch me cry. I never would have thought that was possible. I didn't go as far with my own issues as I would have liked, and there were all kinds of reasons for that (primarily that I don't have near the baggage that those other souls did, and that my employers were the therapists in charge, and frankly, it's not really appropriate for me to work out my issues with them in the same way).

But I can honestly say my life has been changed. In both some big and small ways. This work feels radical to me, and subversive, in the best ways possible. I have a couple of professors from grad school who would probably have a heart attack if they knew how much I love this. How much it blew my mind. I wish everyone could experience it.