Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Clouds in my coffee

A while back my friend George and I went to brunch at the Globe here in Athens. They have clear coffee cups, and so when I poured milk in my coffee I had a good view of the little fractal Brownian motion dance that coffee and milk do.

I said, "Ooo, look! Swirlies!"

Almost the first thing that another friend, Mark, said to me...when we met lo these many years ago...was that I seemed like I was tripping without the drugs.

I assume he meant that I'm the kind of person who will pour milk in her coffee and go "Ooo, look! Swirlies!"

I also like to go on and on about things I find Significant and Terribly Interesting, and laugh at random shit because sometimes the world just strikes me as absolutely fucking hilarious. I'm fine with that. Think of all the time, money, and trouble I save not dropping acid.

What bothers me, though, is that 1) people don't allow themselves to be that open or delighted with the world unless they have chemical intervention, and 2) this kind of behavior is considered strange or "off." If you laugh at the world because it's funny or you're in love with it because it's beautiful, you're not, I don't know, serious or adult enough or something. As if grimness were a virtue.

How can you not be in love with the world? The motion of a bird as it flies, or the way things smell at different times of year, all the details of the way a tree looks from the rough grey and black texture of its bark to the rhythm and pattern of leaves on branches, clouds in the depths of air and the color of the light....or the way milk swirls in elegant slow motion when poured into coffee. Those things are offered all the time, not even for the asking...they're just there, because they are. All around you every day is a wonderment of delight.

It's not that I don't know about the bad stuff. I've lived through some of the bad stuff, myself, and I have been wretched and angry and sad. That's why I'm so attentive to the glory in everyday things; there have been times when that is what saved me from despair.

Do you have so little sorrow in your life that you don't need beauty? Is your life so full of joy already that you have to shut some of it out? Do you think if you squander happiness that you'll run out, or that you're supposed to save it up for important occasions? I assure you that it doesn't work that way.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Ghost of Bobby Lee - National - The Atlantic

The Ghost of Bobby Lee - National - The Atlantic

"This isn't about honoring the past--It's about an inability to cope with the present."

Tell it, Ta-Nahesi.

Here is an example of the kind of thing that drives me crazy: "Tara Estates," in Walton County, a development of houses in the $150,000+ range. Do I need to parse for you all the things that are wrong with that?

Southerners like to say that the war on the Union side was really about money, and not morals. It is absolutely true that sentiment against slavery didn't start to turn until it was no longer profitable for northern shipping companies, and also that northern industrialists didn't fancy having to pay tariffs on cotton like everybody else. However...

Axiom: ALL wars are, at bottom, about money. One way or another. This does not negate the fact that individual people may have other reasons for supporting a given side; many people fought for the Confederacy out of regional loyalty and not because they actually supported slavery. Note I say "fought." I am not letting the Confederate leadership off the hook whatsoever.

Because it was absolutely about money on their part. Not only were slaves the single greatest asset in the US economy, like the article says, the particular people who started the whole mess...the South Carolina secessionists...were very decidedly motivated by money. They were Beaufort plantation owners, who were getting ten times as much per pound for their Sea Island cotton than the price for regular cotton. They were getting absolutely filthy stinking rich, so rich that they would do things like build a mansion in town just to throw parties. Much like the super-rich of today, when they got the idea that the government might interfere in their very lucrative exploitation of other humans, they were horrified and decided they must do something! And had enough power and influence to make it stick. The idea that the Union side was motivated by financial considerations but the Confederacy wasn't is a myth.

But modern people in the South don't believe that just because they're stupid or they don't read history. They believe it because the image of the agrarian, idealized, anti-commercial South was carefully created and promoted and mythologized. And not just here, though plenty of Southern authors participated in the literary version of the myth-making. People in the North ate it up with a spoon. Writers like Joel Chandler Harris (who grew up poor, spent plenty of time as a child around black people, and in my personal opinion knew better) helped create that myth because that's what his readers wanted and would pay for...his mostly Northern readers. We got noble savagized, or noble agrarianized. We are not the only ones who worship our ancestors as they never were. Hell, much of Southern literature in the 20th century could be understood as rebellion against that, or reaction to it. The consequences are still reverberating. As we can see.