12 September 2005

this dysphoria is over a month old!

(And yet, I'm posting it anyway...) I spent a great deal of time watching television this weekend, in between reading proofs of the new John Hope Franklin memoir coming out. The television consisted of horrifying scenes accompanied by dischordantly upbeat reports from New Orleans and the pastel hothouse of the US Open, all of which I watched with a weird hollow urgency in my chest. And then I'd be reminded of my work by the high pitch of the chemical smell floating up from the blues in my lap, and I'd go back to reading what was an inspiring and impressive story. John Hope Franklin has survived a century's worth of racism in this country, filled his life with work and teaching (by virtue of the assistance and bottomless sacrifices made by his wife Aurelia, featured in the frame to his left). His book read like an extended and extremely impressive resumé dotted with brief anecdotes. Several patterns extended themselves from Franklin's quiet and optimistic text to the distracted reader.

John Hope Franklin did everything absolutely by the book, with the righteous and powerful exception of his refusal to bow to the expectations of the racist nation in which he was born. A rough paraphrase of the mantra that thrums in his mind when faced with the cruelest, most manipulative and intimidating of racial injustices is You must do as they do, but do it a thousand times better. The second repetition which manifested itself: Franklin started his life believing in the U.S. government, and continues to from the looks of his memoir. Despite being misused and manipulated by presidential adminstrations and their minions responsible for addressing the very injustices they were calling on him to enumerate, he soldiers on to the next civic task, ever optimistic about the democratic and academic institutions to which he's dedicated himself.

My sense of his anger was mute, the emotion being tempered, I believe, by his vast historical perspective. But then I think his life has been spent trying to demonstrate the significance of history, the truths contained in it. The limitless potential in its study for people to gain the capacity to evaluate, question, recognize (reknow), and empower themselves.

P.S. The NYTimes magazine's delightful and disastrous Deborah Solomon interviewed him shortly after the book's release.

Q. As a renowned scholar of African-American history, a field that some say you virtually invented, how do you think Hurricane Katrina has altered our view of race in this country?

The tragedy is that Katrina changed our view at all. We should have known the things that Katrina brought out.

Like the fact that blacks in New Orleans live in the lowest and most flood-prone elevations, while whites occupy the higher and safer land?

Yes, but we don't have any interest in that. We have more interest in who won the last football game, and who won the last basketball game, and who's on TV, and who's in Hollywood. It's a fundamental problem of this country today, the lack of critical thinking and judgment on the part of
the American citizens.

Lawrence F. Kaplan just published an essay in which he laments the decline of national greatness not among our leaders but among our citizens, among ordinary Americans who have lost all sense of civic responsibility.

It was never any different. It has been the same since 1619. That was when the first ships arrived from West Africa with blacks on them. We got off to a bad start right then!

How can you, as a man who was born in Oklahoma at a time when lynchings were common, and who later worked with Thurgood Marshall on Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case that outlawed segregation in public schools, claim that we have made no progress in advancing the rights of African-Americans?

I'm not saying that! I'd jump out the window if I thought we had made no progress. What I am saying is that the changes have been superficial, and we are still a segregated society when it comes to schools and the neighborhoods where we live.

And of course, you are a teacher yourself. In fact, you are said to be the most decorated professor in this country. I hear you have so far earned 130 honorary degrees.

I think it's up to 137. But that's not the way you measure anything. Some of it is conscience pay. I don't want to belabor the point, but giving out awards makes the givers feel good. It is easier to give me an honorary degree than to make certain that all blacks have a decent place to live.

You yourself live rather nicely in Durham, N.C., where you're a professor emeritus at Duke University and have a building on the campus named after you.

I call myself retired now, and I try to act my age.

How, exactly, does one act at 90 years old?

You go fly-fishing all day.

Or you write all day. Your history of a slave family, "In Search of the Promised Land," just came out, and next month you're publishing your autobiography, "Mirror to America." Do you ever get tired of working?

I have never experienced fatigue the way other people do. I remember the first time I experienced
fatigue. It was in 1960, and I was in Australia. I thought I was going to die.

Now that you are a widower, who prepares your meals for you?

His name is John Hope Franklin.

Yes, I've heard of him. How's his cooking?

Pretty good. I had a big cookout on Labor Day. I had six people over for dinner. I did Hawaiian chicken, and baby back ribs, and we had corn on the cob, and potato salad, which I am ashamed to say that I did not make myself but bought at Harris Teeter supermarket. Isn't that awful?

Unforgivable. Have you ever missed a day of work?

No. For what?

What do you think about before you fall asleep at night?

I don't think about the past much. And I never think about whether I am going to wake up or not the next morning. I'm too busy trying to read the last pages of the newspaper before it falls in my face.

06 September 2005


What I keep thinking of is a girl who moves into an apartment in a neighborhood she doesn't know well. Her downstairs neighbor is a shouter and a screamer. This neighbor lives with her mother, who is a good person but who insists she has a bad heart, that the sound of the girl above is ticking days, months, years off of her life. The girl learns to step lightly up the stairs, across the tile of the kitchen, easing toe to heel. She chastises her visitors for too-loud laughter or for idiosynchratic foot-tapping without hesitation or premeditation. She only plays with her cat if she knows he'll be scrabbling for twine on the soundproof surface of the mattress, his untrimmed claws shredding through the sheets to foam padding, through foam padding to quilted bed. There's something cowardly about this way of life. Something overly precious and falsely concerned. I'm afraid this is, again, a fucking metaphor.

It's the classic blog post: where did she go; what the hell is she doing; why the hell do I keep coming back if there's nothing the fuck new? I'm a bit crushed by work right now, and please, feel quite free to make as much fun of me as you so desire. Work is a pleasure, a privilege. My apartment and place of work are dry and everyday I eat so well as to gain back the weight lost to graduate school. My nails and hair are growing so fast. So what if I'm not getting paid much? So what if my potential for advancement is equal to my willingness to sacrifice my personal life and my own creative work. The notion of the overworked and overfed girl ironically fits my own laziness. I have time. For thinking about and working to do all things. Including this goddamned blog.

The ladyfriend over at Tangential is totally on top of the mushrooming social, political, and above all human consequences and responses of Hurricane Katrina. We spent hours crying and watching the news together on Friday. Watching Aaron Broussard, President of Jefferson Parrish, break down into sobs when he tells the story of the parish's emergency manager, calling to tell his nursinghome-bound mother they were coming to save her day after day, only to have her drown after five days of waiting. Watching Kanye West's deadpan delivery of a statement that everyone was thinking but no one was saying. Fuck, even Matt Damon is spouting negative shit about Bush.

Something is happening here, people. I hope you're paying attention because shit is bigger than the pathetic and miniscule discomforts of my life.

21 August 2005

nice ears, Garvice

As I mentioned, briefly, several misbegotten posts back, I am now gainfully employed by a certain publishing house in New York City. Solicitously, I neglected to inform those who sanctioned my employment that a previous girlfriend of mine had served as an editorial assistant (verily, dear reader, my own role heretofore) several years ago. She left before the completion of a year, having discovered that she wasn't cut out for either the pay or the work, and jaunted off to bonny Albion in search of other satisfactions (she found a fine new girlfriend there, older, and a corporate lawyer, whose lifestyle if not her vacation time suited her ideal). I have since discovered from coworkers that the editor my girlfriend worked under was less than comfortable or productive in the house, spiritedly unhappy, and was soon "asked to leave," as no one there is ever actually "fired."

So, indeed, I entered this job with some awareness of her discontent, and have been happy to discover that my own experience so far has been thoroughly endurable.

I work for two editors. The first, older and a VP, who I'll call Clara, has been granted by many at the company the epithet of sweet Jewish mother, known for leaving treats and other signals of goodwill on the desks of those with whom she works. My predecessor arrived on her penultimate day of work to discover a deep purple orchid, well in bloom, wedged between her/our keyboard and monitor. Clara is in charge of the paperbacks published by the company as well as the "classics," works from the backlist either out of print or deserving of more attention, which are reissued with fresh introductions written by the contemporarily hot-to-trot. She worked formerly for Vintage Contemporaries (an imprint whose fiction I read more than any other) and is so pragmatic as to be self-effacing (at a recent editorial meeting, in which all of the editors sit at table in the Publisher's office and the editorial assistants drag in folding chairs and desperately strain to hear the meeting's whispered proceedings in the offing, Clara took a spot on the windowsill, recognizing the lack of seats for everyone). She is difficult to read but extremely even-tempered, and asks about the amount of sleep I've been getting or whether I've eaten a sufficient amount on the day of her questioning. She even told me, last week, that she was glad that I was leaving work at 5:30pm on one particular day, in order to attend a party, and said that I'd been staying too late.

This would be the time to mention that it is customary for those employed by this fine if somewhat patriarchal institution to arrive at eight in the morning and depart well after six. Overtime, my dears, is undocumented but paid in free books. The nature of the work is such that it is often easier to stay late in order to complete the tasks one has begun than to leave them for the next day, that next day being a day which may present a climate more hostile to their completion, given additional sundry tasks, duties, obligations, and caterwauling authors.

The second editor I work with, I'll call her Lise, lives in an office just across the hall from mine. She has, as my ladyfriend has stated, an early nineties haircut and dye-job: blunt horizontal bangs and just shoulder length hair, with the bangs and bits of the face-bordering fringe bleached a brassy blonde. The effect is severe and cute, simultaneously, admirably so. She often wears necklaces that declare her outdoorsyness (in certain genres of sci-fi or romance fiction the "amulets" would be described as being affixed to her neck by leather "thongs") and polyester dresses too garishly printed not to be vintage. Lise is my height if not a bit shorter, and I made the mistake this past week at marveling at how tall I felt in her presence (more often than not she wears flipflops to work), I perched in my misguided and uncomfortable heels. She chuckled, but I could tell it was more courtesy than genuine entertainment.

One positive interaction led to our agreement that my ladyfriend is, indeed, totally hottt. As Lise is the editor of the author who I worked for this summer, she had seen said author's documentary about abortion, which includes (features) my ladyfriend and her story. This was the best part: Lise is standing in my doorway, I'm seated at my desk, and another editorial assistant is standing to my right. Lise says, "Yeah, when [your ladyfriend] came on the screen, George [her partner] and I were like, Whoa, she's totally cute. And then after the screening was over, [your ladyfriend] gets up to answer some questions and we were like, Whoa, she's even hotter in person." There's just nothing like bonding with your boss about how fucking attractive your girlfriend is, seriously.

Lise edits the imprint that primarily publishes plays, books on film, pop-cultural histoires and analyses, in addition to some fiction under the flagship imprint. Lise is stern, deep-voiced and dark-eyed, and when she laughs I feel compelled to describe her as a jock. She demonstrates the necessary patience and acute performances of drama in order to elicit action or simply text from her authors, often playwrights and filmmakers who are distant in either mind or body. She has frequently lectured me on the absolute necessity of maintaining absolute discretion when dealing with their contact information (the address of a famous person in the wrong hands can very well necessitate said famous person's migration to an esoteric state) and has given me scores of proof that when it comes to dealing with people in Hollywood, it's best to pretend that everything is happening right now and you need to get me this right now and why isn't it here yet goddammit? I'm pretty sure I don't yet have the license to play the "goddammit" card as of the present moment, but I'm sure it will come, jutting out of the deck like a green light, a premonition of some new and aggressive personality that I do not yet fully possess.

All said, I'm grateful to be working for two women. Face it, people: I'm much more likely to earn trust and give my trust to women; though there are plenty of good examples of fine menfolk in my life who I admire and trust, many of you are reading this, it sure does take a while. More detailed descriptions of my duties to follow, if they be desired.

I remain, yours, in absolute frisson in the face of the inequities and idiosyncrasies of publishing, theories about which I'm sure to develop in the foreseeable interim.


15 August 2005

bathers 1

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bathers 2

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bathers 3

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bathers 4

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14 August 2005

appeas'd be

Sorry for my absence. A thorough rundown of the work situation soon to follow. In the meantime. I posted some of the North Dakota/Colorado photos on my Flickr page.

Here, my mom (on the right) and my aunt Sue (on the left)demonstrate the power of mastery through imitation. If you examine my mother's facial expression, you'll see she shares my transparent sense of irony. The stripper mannequin was posted at the top of the stairs of this tiny restaurant in Amidon called "Georgia's and the Owl" that had kindly announced, "Welcome Stegner Reunion: 100 Years."

08 August 2005

by way of annoncer

My dear people, I am very pleased and grateful to say that I now have a job.

Or possibly more accurately, I have been told that if I come to the same place every day from 9 am until 5 pm I will be given rent money plus some benefits that will come in handy should I collapse while working.

Scary to think of me in the working world, primarily because I believe I have a great number of illusions about the working world. Like, once I gain their respect I can wear as many cleavage shirts as I so desire. Or, no one will give a damn about my hairy armpits. Or, because I'm a reasonable and capable person, no one is going to yell at, throw things at, or generally disrespect, moi. Or, because I'll be working for women, one of them a self-declared feminist even, the situation will be most likely simpatico (meaning, hopefully, clear expecations, reasonable demands, a reduced likelihood of demeaning, unnecessary, and time-consuming tasks, or in the event of such tasks, a shared sense of the ridiculousness of humanity's lapsed ability to optimize working environments; i.e. copy machines and fax machines should have been turned into coffee dispensing, lunch/drycleaning fetching, mood-sensitive robots a LONG TIME AGO). The ladyfriend's own situation at the Agglomerate of Canards and Legal Ululation will attest to instability of the previous hypothetical.

But perhaps my most cherished illusion: now I can help to publish the work of my talented and beloved friends!

05 August 2005

dream post #1

So currently, I'm in Colorado with the family, a situation interesting only insofar as it confirms my nascent (good and bad) suspicions, derived from and harbored since my own time as an angry teen, back when I was so much better at acknowledging my feelings and yet so powerfully inarticulate.

I'm in a condo in beautiful Steamboat, one of those Summer is for Sports and Winter is for Skiing towns where the rich people flock on weekends and the people who actually work the cash register at the Safeway live in trailer parks ten miles away, just off the interstate. The sounds are pleasure planes and million dollar home construction, the smells are just west of girl scout camp.

Like most of my visits home, I believe (when I book the ticket) that I will enjoy staying for as long as I can. But a week here (and in North Dakota) and I'm spent. The goodwill is turning sour and I can already feel my limbs stiffen with each ensuing hug. Four days to go. I've done the obligatory sprinkling of visits throughout my former hometown to the fractured Stoner relativities of blood and history that mar Fort Fun's shiny surface. These somewhat forced but still cheerful encounters are interspersed with bittersweet pilgrimages to the former homes of girlfriends, crushes, boyfriends and enemies who have systematically moved away from Fort Fun. And yet, I still think when I click that purchase button for the plane ticket, that maybe I'll get to see some friends. But having fled the town myself I can hardly complain.

Noteable to this visit, however, has been the fact that my mother and I convene each morning and recount the most unbelievable dreams. Ever since she dreamed of skiing and sex with Eddie Murphy and I listened, rapt, to the most literal eroticization and hyper-masculinization of a black man I'd ever heard, my mom believes I have a potent interest in her dreams. And I do. Oh yes, I do. We've also managed for this dream talk to be an exchange, something my mother and I are not especially good at. She tells her dream, and I tell mine.

So Wednesday morning, I woke up and shuffled downstairs in the pants my mom has threatened to burn at least five times since I've been home, and listened to her tell me about her dream of a Wild Safari to Africa, which included countless African scouts, during which not a single animal was spotted let alone shot. She doesn't care for hunting and yet she woke up feeling horribly disappointed. I ate the rest of my fiberlicious breakfast cereal with a "hint" of brown sugar, then I told my mother my dream.

I dreamed that I ate another human being. This person I ate, quite genderless yet naked, was awake while I was doing it. The circumstances weren't desperate and I certainly wasn't being secretive, as this happened on the street. It wasn't gruesome, exactly, but it also wasn't clean and neat. I was as methodical finishing leg, then arm, then leg, then arm, as I am methodical in finishing each pile of categorically different food on my waking dinner plate. And this person I was eating seemed to approve of my process. Or at least, I thought they did until my first meal's friend (or acquaintance, I'm not sure) approached me, offering themselves as dessert. As soon as we reached some sort of bizarre agreement, "do you find me worthy enough to consume you?" was my big question, the second person agreed. And then they entered the butcher shop on the street behind us and called the police. My first agreed that I should be prosecuted for agreeing to partake of a second; the head belonging to the person I had just eaten was still animated and offering details of my appearance for a police sketch. So I fled. I ran as fast as I could through clean streets and the kind of greenbelts that only the most canned of suburbs can find beautiful, until I felt my bones tell me that I'd reached a town whose residents, all of them, had done something terribly wrong. I settled there, with people whose features I recognized but whose names I didn't know, and after enough time had passed, I believed I was happy.

My mother shook her head, in that special way she has of locking her eyeballs on me while her head rotates back and forth, back and forth. It gives you the impression that her eyes are the locus of her body, around which everything else flutters and turns. Then she said, "Every time I think my dream is weird, your dream is so much weirder. How is that?"

I didn't have a good answer for that one, beyond the obvious, "Because I'm weirder," or "Because you take dreams even more literally that I do." But I had to confess that this was a first. I've flown a lot, I've killed a few people, I've (twice) rapidly alternated between the positions of penis-bearer and vagina-bearer in some sort of trans/bi body snatchers event, I've even channeled the voice of some powerful, wrathful being (due I think to the ancient electric blanket I was sleeping under), but I have never before dreamed of eating someone. I can only wonder if this was a symptom of the vast quantities of ground beef I consumed while visiting the Stegner homestead in North Dakota.