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.