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.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Not even a mouse

We had only been in bed for about an hour last night when what seemed like an earth-shattering crash made both of us leap out of bed in a flurry of racing hearts and caught breath. We stood in the dark, unsure of what to do. "Hello!" I called, terrified, down the dark hallway into our second bedroom, which has seemed to serve as the locus of our paranoia lately.

The night before, you see, Tom was at school attending a poetry reading and I was home by myself. I discovered that night we have motion censors on both the north and south sides of our house, because they both kept getting turned on. One of them is right outside the window in the second bedroom/office, and the other is right outside our living room windows (which aren't on the front of the house, but the side). I was in our office, on the internet, and noticed the light come on through the blinds. The dogs in the neighborhood were going nuts that night, with constant barking (and there are a lot of dogs in our neighborhood). I didn't think much of it, and eventually it turned itself off. But I hadn't even been aware of its presence until that night, after almost 5 weeks of living here. Probably some random dog walking around, I thought.

A few minutes later I was walking into the kitchen when I noticed another light shining through the blinds of our living room window. I peeked through and saw that we had yet another motion censor on that side of the house, I had also previously never been aware of. This gave me a little bit of a pause, as the dogs were still going nuts all around our house.

Hmmm, I thought to myself, growing a little scared and paranoid. All the blinds in the house were shut, and the doors were locked. I thought about activating the alarm, but didn't. I went back into the office, my skin tingling a bit, and a chill went through me when I saw that the light outside the office had turned itself on again.

Shit. Now what? This boy has seen too many movies. Plus, at the moment we're sharing a car, and Tom had it, so I thought, "What if someone is walking around the house trying to figure out if someone's home?" And lest you think I'm simply paranoid, our neighbors across the street have had their home broken into 3 times in 4 years. Just a couple of weeks ago, the house next door to them had its front door kicked in in broad daylight. Within the past month, 3 other houses within 2 or 3 blocks of us have been broken into. Memphis takes its crime seriously. The dogs were now quieting down.

After several more minutes of hand-wringing, I decided to call the cops. Just, you know, to let someone know I was feeling paranoid, and maybe they could drive through the neighborhood or something. So they ended up sending 2 cars to my house, and they talked to me a bit (which, honestly, made me feel silly, because I hadn't actually seen or heard anything), and they walked all around the house and the backyard. (And I'm pretty sure one of them was Officer Aubrey, but I wasn't sure and it seemed inappropriate to ask. And yes, I sometimes watch that show.)

Obviously they found nothing. But later that night, after I had gone to bed, Tom was still up working and noticed the sensor outside the office turn on yet again. So he left the light on in the office when he came to bed.

So last night, we both crept into the darkness of the living room, huddling together. The kitchen light was on. "Did you leave the kitchen light on?" I asked Tom, as he had come to bed after me. I don't remember his response, but I think he said he did. I called for the cat, but I didn't see her anywhere. One of us reached down and turned on a lamp. Nothing seemed amiss. I walked into the kitchen half expecting there to be a person standing around the corner, having just kicked through our back door. Nothing. And no cat. Door still securely fastened.

So we both crept slowly together toward the back bedroom. I turned on the light. Everything seemed normal.

What the hell was that crash we'd both heard, and that caused us both jump out of our skin from sound sleep?? We were both so confused, and also freaked out.

Then I saw it. I breathed a sigh of relief, and almost started laughing at the absurdity of it. 2 weeks ago (or 3?), I bought a huge, old framed poster of a United States map to hang above the giant empty space of wall above our TV. Well, that had decided after all this time to fall, and simply land, upright, behind the TV and the TV table. We both finally breathed, and found the cat underneath the coffee table. The only other time in my life I'd been that freaked out was when I lived in Dallas and the light fixture in my bathroom fell one night and crashed to the floor while I was sleeping. I was convinced then that someone had broken my back sliding-glass door and was absolutely mortified to walk out into my living room to investigate.

So we both went back to sleep, eventually, after our hearts and nerves calmed down. But even now, in the morning, some of that paranoia still remains. I wonder if this is just how I'll feel the whole time I'm living here. Having your home broken into seems to me just about the most invasive crime that can happen to someone. How can you ever feel safe after that? Frankly, I'd rather be mugged at gunpoint if I had to choose. Let's just hope it never comes to that.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


To prevent myself from writing a rambling, rage-filled rant about how much I hate America and politicians and never want to vote for anyone ever again, including the "fierce advocate" Obama (a post I have already written and prudently sat on before I "published"), I will instead write a small, personal and congratulatory (to myself) post.

I got a job yesterday! And I have to say it was a little bit serendipitous, but it also came about through some deliberate and assertive networking. Several months ago, upon first learning that we were going to be moving to Memphis, I emailed someone at the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center to see if they might have any recommendations for any places in Memphis that provide mental health services and were either GLBT friendly, or even specialized in GLBT issues. The man who responded was very nice and forwarded my email to probably 50 people in Memphis, several of whom wrote back to me. One of them was this guy, who wanted to know a little bit more about what I was looking for.

Long story short, we met up after I moved here and had a brief networking interview (well, about 45 minutes), where he got a little more information and said he had a few ideas of how he might be able to help me. Eventually he got back to me and asked me if I'd be willing to come back and meet the other 2 therapists that work there. I agreed, and they offered me a job.

It was a position that they had sort of been thinking about creating for a couple of years but hadn't really bothered. And then they met me and decided it would be "their loss" if they did not utilize me in some way. So I'm coming in preliminarily as an office manager of sorts, but they plan to begin training me in their modalities, and eventually I will get to start co-leading therapy groups and helping to co-facilitate their "intensives," which you can read all about here. I think this will be a very good fit for me. It seems the guy was really looking for someone to mentor, which is great, because I love to be mentored! He also just joined (I can't remember the exact name) the board of the Tennessee Strategic Planning Association for GLBT issues, or something like that. Basically a statewide mental health advocacy association for homos. They're having a big conference in November in Nashville he already said he wants to take me to. Which is super exciting!

So, you see kids, networking can really pay off. I guess especially in a city like Memphis that doesn't get a lot of young, educated people moving in. Mostly moving out. But I think this can be the start of a great relationship and a fantastic opportunity. I start tomorrow!

And speaking of relationships, Tom and I got engaged over the weekend! Also, I've been obsessed with this song for weeks now:

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Inspired by this story of Time magazine accidentally using a 35-year-old photo and saying it was new (of a tornado passing by the Statue of Liberty), I decided to Google tornado pictures, because, you know, I'm kind of a natural disasters geek. Here are some of the cooler ones I found!

The photo in question, from the summer of 1976

A heart-stopping photo of a tornado in downtown Miami in 1997

Iowa City, 2008

Salt Lake City, 1999

Canadian city (I'm guessing Toronto?), 2000

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

There's a calm before the storm

Tomorrow I have a "networking interview" at this place. Last week I had one here, and a job might actually come out of that one. The guy keeps being sort of cryptic about it, but promises to have me back for an official interview in the next few days. Tom sometimes marvels at my ability to cold-call places and ask if I can come in for an interview. It's sort of astonishing, if you actually have the credentials (even though I don't, really) how many places will invite you to come on over. As long as you act like you do, no one really knows the difference, and once you're in the door you can wow them with your smile.

In school they tell us over and over that networking is the key to employment. That was always what people said about the entertainment industry too, except then I felt like "networking" half the time was a code-word for giving someone a blowjob. I'm not really so jaded, but it's certainly a different experience. I also had a real interview on Friday at this place. My second with that company. In the first one, I told the lady I didn't want the job before the interview was even over. Not my bag, counseling gang-bangers, and kids awaiting trial for homicide, rape, and severe physical assault. No thanks. I am very gifted at some things when it comes to counseling, but probably not so much that. The latest interview was to be a counselor to foster kids and their foster parents, which I think is much more my smile. I think that interview went well. I also think, if I may be so bold, that it speaks to my inherent employability at some level if I can forthrightly say in one interview that I don't want the job and then she can recommend me for something else. One thing about the mental healthcare industry is that honesty is certainly valued. And self-awareness.

I also think it's just Memphis. People here are nice. And, I think, sort of desperate for out-of-town blood. In Portland (or even Austin, probably, for that matter) calling strangers out of the blue and asking for 30 minutes of their time would make people think I was creepy and desperate. Or just annoying. I've already made more friends in the 3 weeks I've lived in Memphis than in the 2 years I lived in Portland. That place is already starting to feel like somewhat of a distant memory. Whenever I tell people here where I moved from I get 1 of 2 reactions: a hearty welcome and some warning about the crime but that it's a great city; or a suspicious eyebrow raise and a "Why the hell did you move here?"

Today I went jogging in the old growth forest part of Overton Park, which was lovely, except I almost stepped on a large(ish) snake and subsequently almost had a heart attack. I'm glad no one was around to see me hyperventilating while I waved my hands up and down, muttering "Ohmygod, ohmygod" over and over.

Pretty soon I'm going to start taking some pics of my neighborhood and neat things in the city to post. And our house. That we love.

Also, for some reason (well, I know the reason, but it's complicated) I've been obsessed with this song for, like, a week now.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sign 'O the Times

I honestly don't know whether to be excited about all those teabaggers winning their primaries tonight, thereby handily securing those seats for Democrats in November, or to be incredibly depressed because, contrary to what some of you might believe, I do desperately wish the United States had a serious conservative party. Not only because it would make the whole country stronger if we could actually have real, adult debate about important issues (all the Republicans know how to do is scare up fear; at least they seem, for better or for worse, to have mostly moved on from gays being the primary boogeymen in America), but because the Democrats are only marginally serious themselves.

I can't think of another time in my adult life when I actually, fundamentally cared less who actually won in November. The Democrats can also all go fuck themselves as far as I'm concerned, and frankly, I think it might be kind of fun for a couple of those nutbags to win in November. Then, perhaps, we could have the complete meltdown of the Republican party that this country so desperately needs. Then they can maybe rebuild themselves into something useful.

That might also be wishful thinking. Le sigh.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Like mountains beyond mountains

Tonight when I was putting together my shitty new crooked and wobbly metal shelf for my kitchen, and my shitty new wobbly particle board bookshelf to house all of our cookbooks, I got incredibly depressed.

It was a purely existential moment of fleeting despair at how fucking expendable everything feels. I made a commitment recently to only buy old furniture whenever I wanted a "new" piece of furniture. This would mean scouring thrift stores, antique stores, garage sales, etc to find that perfect sturdy old bookshelf to house all of our cookbooks. I love doing that stuff anyway, and finding a cool old table or shelf that you love is so gratifying. (Granted, this has only happened to me once.) But tonight I caved, proving as well how expendable my principles are. Natch.

We went to Target and bought a metal shelf for $17 and the particle board shelf for $20. You can't beat the price at least. But I felt defeated. We've been here almost 3 weeks and really needed this stuff, and I haven't found any suitable, or suitably old, ones. So I caved.

I've never been one of those people who wanted everything in their house to match, or who wanted a bedroom or living room "set." How dreadful. I want everything to be mismatched, and to have been collected, and to have a story behind it, even if it's someone else's story. In short, I want everything in my house to have been found, to have been discovered, to actually have some intrinsic emotional value. Instead I'm buying cardboard shelves at Target that will get thrown away in 2 years and added to all the crap squeezing out all semblance of life that's left on this planet.

Yes, putting together a shelf tonight has thrown me into an incurable depressive funk. It used to be that if you wanted a new set of dishes, you had to save for it, and go to a special place to buy them, and you took care of them, and valued them. I'm not so sure it shouldn't still be that way. I'm not so sure that simply being able to buy whatever we want whenever we want it isn't the whole root problem of everything that's wrong in our world. It's why humans are so unkind: because emotions are expendable. It's why no one values anything: because you can always just go buy another one. It's why we wage unwinnable wars against faux enemies: because resources will always be there forever to be exploited (or at least that's the common line of thought). I'm not convinced the future isn't going to look like the past. We'll probably all have to go back to riding horses and growing our own food and making our own clothes and everything technological will reverse (was that Herman Hesse who wrote a book about that?).

I've been reading the original Dracula by Bram Stoker this week and this afternoon I started to think about how annoying it is that the whole story is told through letters and the character's diary entries. When it then occurred to me that it's annoying because no one communicates like that anymore. No one writes 6-page, eloquent letters to each other anymore. It's a lost art, and the book, though only 113 years old, truly felt like a ancient relic. And then I decided I liked that it was all told through letters and diary entries. No one could write a book like that anymore. Think about it. Who now would write an entire 500-page novel told through snail mail correspondence? No one, that's who, because it wouldn't get published and no one would read it. Or if they did, it would be a gimmick. If anything, in this day and age, I think literature serves a purpose of reminding us how to read something more than 140 characters long.

I'm not saying anything new, I realize that. But I like this stuff.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dirty South

Respect Our Neighborhood

My first impressions of Memphis were driving over the Mississippi river from Arkansas into downtown at dusk. I'd heard tales of the blight of Memphis, and the rampant poverty, but I'm not sure I was quite prepared for what I actually saw when I arrived. Blocks upon blocks of crumbling or boarded up buildings; sheds that were actually liquor stores with bars on all the windows and doors; homes with the ceilings or porches caving in, but people clearly still living in them; roaming packs of dogs; burned out cars; and empty, desolate fields and lots, some of them full of garbage. I won't lie: my heart sank, and I nearly panicked at what I had got myself into.

Memphis Building in the Green Desolation

As we drove on, and neighborhoods began to look only marginally better, we got stopped by a train trying to get over the track that runs only 3 houses down from our house. As we waited, and waited, and waited (at one point, the train simply stopped and sat there for awhile), 3 teenage boys were running down the street with 2 unleashed pit bulls. If I'd had a paper bag at that point, I would have started breathing into it.

Eventually, however, we made it to our new home, where our landlord was waiting for us ( and he is SO nice). The house is beautiful (pictures to follow), and I really like our neighborhood, but yeah, Memphis is a change. It's a city that is hemorraghing population, the cost of living is dirt cheap (our relatively large house is putting us back $700 a month; in Austin, our house would be no less than $1,200, or probably more), and at least according to Wikipedia, it's the most dangerous city in America. The dog at the house next door to us either spends all day on a 3-foot long chain, or simply runs around unchained, and likes to come up on our porch and try to follow us into the house. A house across the street has 2 pit bull puppies that also sometimes run around. Last week, apparently, 2 unleashed pit bulls attacked an old man somewhere in the city and he died.


Grocery shopping here has also been a bit of a challenge, or "uninspiring," according to a friend of mine here (yes, I've already made a new friend). But we're managing, and adjusting to any new place requires flexibility and a change in routine. I'll get by. It's a city I'm really looking forward to exploring culturally (with the rich music history, and the wealth of civil rights history, there's a lot going on in that regard) and socially. Honestly, at this point, my biggest complaint is the sprawl and how you have to drive 10 minutes to get anywhere. I guess I got really spoiled in Portland, because Austin is that way too, and while I didn't like it there (but expected it, and didn't really know much better), it's making me crazy, and kind of depressed, here in Memphis. Another adjustment, I suppose.

I assume I'll be blogging a bit more regularly here, since in Portland I just never felt inspired to blog. Here, I anticipate feeling more inspired. Already good things are happening, which I will also write about. I think, once I get past the shock of actually living in an impoverished southern city of extremely dubious distinction, I'll settle in and start making it my own. A lot of people love living here. Hopefully soon enough I'll understand why. And since we have a guest bedroom now, maybe lots and lots of people will come visit! Memphis has its own special kind of beauty, much like the rusty, dilapidated industry of the Pacific Northwest, which I think is beautiful.

Sun Breaking Through From Cobblestones

Friday, August 20, 2010

Cicadas in August

It seems ungrateful to complain about the rough beginning of our trip back east (east of Oregon, anyway): about how the restaurant at the hotel only had 1 cook, and we waited over 20 minutes on a salad before we gave up and left (after a day of moving); or about how much I fucking hate American Airlines (sorry, Victor!) and how miserable they make every trip I ever use them for and that they have a complete lack of regard for their customers; or about how Littlejeans escaped from her carrier on the airplane and the stewardess had to chase her down. But that, at least, was funny.

The first night we arrived in St. Louis we talk a walk around the neighborhood after dinner. It was just what summer should feel like. The cicadas and crickets were buzzing, the air was warm but damp and a little breezy. The air just feels so different here than in Oregon. It's impossible to put my finger on, and I don't think I would ever get used to Oregon summers.

I brought along 3 books for travel: Light in August by William Faulkner, which I'm reading now and loving, though making very little headway it seems; Danse Macabre by Stephen King, whom I've decided is in my top 5 favorite contemporary writers; and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, which I've never read, but feel like I should have by now. We had no idea how long our stuff was going to take to be moved from Portland to Memphis, but as of this morning, according to our moving coordinator, it will all be there Monday morning. Which is super exciting, but also stressful because Tom will be gone to orientation all day, and I have a job interview at this place at 1pm. So they better get there on time.

Last night some friends of Tom's hosted a potluck for us at their house which was utterly delightful, and I drank too much. And today we visited a used bookstore that was incredible and it stormed. How I've missed storms! It's easy to forget that up in the Pacific Northwest, they don't actually have weather. It rains, but that's climate, not weather. Nothing ever really happens up there except some occasional snow. We've done a lot of walking, and record shopping, and Miss Littlejeans is loving Tom's parents house, and the air-conditioning (as are we!) and is settling in nicely. Hopefully she'll settle in just as nicely to our house in Memphis.

The new Memphis abode, waiting for us to come fill it

Monday, August 09, 2010

"I could waltz across Texas with you."

Collier's wedding in California was beautiful, and so much fun. Four days in the mountains, with no internet, very little phone service, and just good food, great friends, tons of laughs and great conversations. Everything was perfect.

Many, many more pictures are HERE.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Combining according to the laws of a closed order

I've recently been thinking a lot about families, and how they shape us. Not in the usual ways that people talk about that, but in how things get passed down in a really unconscious way. How what families talk about, or don't talk about, or the secrets they keep, or the habits they have, effect subsequent members of the family.

My mom says that my older brother has pretty much the exact same personality as our great-grandfather, who my brother never knew. In fact, my grandfather died several years before my brother was even born.

The French psychoanalyst and neo-Freudian Jacques Lacan says that everyone speaks in unconscious signifiers, which, as I understand it, are more than just words we say. They are words that sound like other words, said in place of what the person either can't really say, or doesn't know to. They are very common in instances of repression, or trauma, when an individual doesn't have a way to construct a narrative about their life. But aside from trauma or repression, everyone uses signifiers in their speech, because according to Lacan, even using language is traumatizing, because it will always be woefully incomplete (as a form of expression).

Thus, these same forms of expression, or non-expression get passed down, even in very unconscious or historical ways that can even skip generations. It's more than genetics; it's a way of understanding and being in the world. I don't think it's just families that do this, though, but families have the biggest influence on this for each person.

How is it that so much can be absorbed into each person throughout a lifetime and then expelled in so many other ways that are completely unconscious? How come so many families, through generation after generation, just can't seem to get it right? It's more than conditioning. It's their language, even in the way they talk about things when they're really talking about something else. Resentments, terrors, fears, hopes, desires. All of these things are embedded in our DNA in one way or another, whether we know it or not.

In more ways than one, we're always stuck with our families.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Teach him he's alive before he wishes he was dead

Images of parents who were so hungry and unfulfilled that they ate their own children...images so violent and malicious that they seemed to be my only point of reference for a long time afterwards. After I left.
-Bret Easton Ellis, Less Than Zero

Bret Easton Ellis has officially run out of ideas. I first read Less Than Zero when I was a freshman in college (appropriately) and I pretty much hated every character, but it made an impression on me. It wasn't until a bit later that I realized I was supposed to hate every character, and that Zero wasn't necessarily supposed to be entertainment. It was a document, so to speak, of a life. It seems too extreme to be real, painting as it does a world so full of drugs, materialistic consumption, power, money, and fame, that its inhabitants have become completely removed from any kind of reality. They are totally devoid of feeling. In one scene, a bunch of kids sit around a Malibu mansion watching a snuff film that was purchased on the street that contains children being tortured. In another, some friends of the main character tie a 12-year-old girl to a bed at a party in West Hollywood, shoot her full of drugs and take turns raping her. The main character's (and narrator's) response to this? To walk out on the balcony and say, "It's not right, what you're doing."

It is a disturbing book, to be sure, but I'm also not completely sure it's fiction, which is the point. It's a post-modern conundrum at its finest. It's an amoral document that dares you to be offended, but then says, "Hey, this is just my life, what I've seen. I just call it as I see it."

Ellis is at his best when he is plotless. When his characters simply move through life and events and observe. His next to last book, Lunar Park, was such a meta-analytical mess, it revealed a man who appeared to be seriously off his rocker. The main character's name was Bret Easton Ellis, but it's not the same BEE that wrote the book. The one in the book is heterosexual (everyone knows the real BEE is gay), lives in the northeastern suburbs, and has children. But he was also a writer, who, I believe, wrote American Psycho, I'm not sure. Anyway, he wrote something about children being murdered, and then, the plot of Lunar Park is about a real-life murderer who is reenacting the murders in the book with children from the fictional BEE's neighborhood, and then starts coming after his children. And then there was something about the BEE character's dead father showing up as a ghost, or something. I don't remember. Jay McInerney (one of my favorite contemporary novelists) also makes a cameo in the book as himself, but was apparently none too pleased with how he was portrayed. But it was a mess and ridiculous. Too much plot, which could have been interesting in hands that are perhaps more skilled in the art of storytelling.

Last week I just finished BEE's latest, Imperial Bedrooms, supposedly a sequel to Less Than Zero, but only because he says it is. It concerns Clay, the narrator of Zero, but in Bedrooms, in another meta-analytical twist so confusing it makes your head spin, he claims to have not written the book. He also claims that he and all his friends were invited to the movie premiere, and were stunned when the movie was nothing like the book, and thus, they felt their lives had been stolen by Hollywood and made into an after-school special. So in Imperial Bedrooms, both the book and the movie of Less Than Zero exist, but it's really BEE commenting on them through his narrator. Nothing happens in the book except some people get brutally murdered, and in one particularly noteworthy but completely superfluous chapter, Clay, again the narrator, hires young boy and girl prostitutes to come out to Palm Springs with him where sexually tortures and debases them for no reason except to do it. Towards the end of the chapter, the girl prostitute, after having tried to escape but being caught and brought back tells Clay that he has made her believe in God again after being an atheist. Why? Because she was in hell, and the Devil lived in Palm Springs. Admittedly, it was a chilling moment in the book, but not worth what came before it. Especially since there was no reason for it to be there except to say that Clay, that young, impressionable and sensitive narrator who fled Los Angeles once and for all at the end of Less Than Zero, has nevertheless become a heartless product of his environment (the film industry and Hollywood) 25 years later. There is some sort of mystery of mistaken identity going on throughout the book (I think...) but it's only a mystery because no one speaks in complete sentences and because the characters in the book want it to be. The Hollywood cliches are all there (the struggling starlets; the lifers in the industry who have had so much plastic surgery they are no longer recognizable; the drugs; the sexual debasing; more snuff films uploaded onto the internet whose validity the characters debate; etc etc.). It's all so tiresome at this point.

I still think Less Than Zero is a great book, and provides the perfect backdrop for an era (the mid-80's). Rules of Attraction is also fantastic, and shows BEE actually dealing with at least a couple of people who actually have hearts and feel pain. And which was made into a pretty faithful movie adaptation, strangely enough, considering its shifting narrative and POV. American Psycho I've not read, though I feel like I have. Glamoramma and Lunar Park are both pieces of shit.

I try not to judge the artist by the art, though I always do anyway. I think Bret Easton Ellis is probably either a horrible person, or someone in so much pain, like his altar-ego Clay, who feels he must torture and rape innocent children just to prove that he still has power. Imperial Bedrooms is a completely empty novel, written by an individual wanting desperately to cash in on a famous name (the previous novel) but having no basis for actually doing so. It's too bad. It cheapens the original. Whatever hope, or salvation, or light, no matter how small, that was presented at the end of Less Than Zero by Clay turning his back on his life and disappearing, is rendered moot with this book. Is BEE trying to say that no matter what, we all turn into monsters? Or is he saying that when faced with such a barrage of banal evil, no one is actually strong enough to pull away? Whatever the case, all hope is lost. And Clay hires people to torture his best friend to death and put videos of it on the internet because he's jealous of a girl. That's the kind of boring, unimaginative low this book stoops to.

Whatever the message, it's no longer a message I'm interested in listening to.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Bad Moon Rising

Despite my often loud and frequent claims to the contrary, I don't disbelieve in god. I don't believe in god, either. I definitely am not a christian. I just don't purport to claim to actually know what exists out there, but I'm pretty certain it's not some dude who somehow appeared at the beginning of time and acts as a personal therapist to everyone on earth and concerns himself with minutiae of our dull and dreary day to day lives. But I do think there's something, some spiritual plane of existence that we mere mortals will never understand or really know about as long as we're part of this mortal coil.

But it's also possible I have to believe that in order to reconcile the fact that I believe in ghosts. Without a doubt. And maybe in vampires too, but not nearly as strongly, and not like they are in the movies. But ghosts? Yes, absolutely. Mostly just because I want to. Which is how I view religion as well. People believe because they want to, because they simply make the choice to, or not to.

Earlier tonight I was reading a review of that movie Session 9, which is really fucking scary, and all about ghosts and insane people. So I decided to look up the Danvers State Hospital, where the movie takes place, and where it was filmed. And, incidentally, according to Wikipedia, was built on the hill where most of the women were executed that had been convicted of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials. There's a lot going on there.

Danvers State Hospital

Anyhoo, someone got the brilliant idea of turning the now abandoned Danvers hospital (also rumored to be the birthplace of the pre-frontal lobotomy) and turn it into "luxury condos" (is there any other kind...?). I mean, seriously??? Would you live there?

I can say that I would not. I like the idea of it, but I would be way too freaked out all the time, seeing and hearing ghoulies every place I went. And I wouldn't be wrong. No thank you. I mean, I know every place that humans have ever lived is haunted and ghosts surround us all the time. But why put yourself in a place that has seen such misery and torment and violence?

Seriously, you're just asking for trouble.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

It's true

I'm back.

I decided recently that one reason I stopped blogging was because I never really warmed up to my new blog. When I moved I thought it would be real fun to start over, start fresh, reinvent myself yet again. But just as I never truly warmed up to my new city in any way that felt terribly meaningful, I also never warmed up to my new blog. Even just typing in this entry feels like home again. Also, I guess, I've been really fucking busy, but that's also winding to a close. I have approximately 3 hours left of my graduate school career. Huzzah! It also started to feel like not a single person was actually reading it, which is as it is.

So faced with the prospect of looming unemployment, no school to go to, and a new city where I will know 1 and a half people (a good friend of mine and her husband that I've met once, hence the half person), I figure I might have lots of time to be writing about my musings on whatever it is I'm doing or not doing.

I took almost 2 hours last night to read back through old entries on this here bloggy, and realized how much I enjoyed doing it. So I will start again, and maybe someone besides me will enjoy it. Maybe not, but if nothing else, I would like to simply get back into the habit of writing more frequently. Keeps my brain nimble. And keeps me interested in things.

I hope you'll start coming back to visit me again!