Monday, October 11, 2010

Virginia Woolf, on writing

"Anyone moderately familiar with the rigours of composition will not need to be told the story in detail; how he wrote and it seemed good; read and it seemed vile; corrected and tore up; cut out; put in; was in ecstasy; in despair; had his good nights and bad mornings; snatched at ideas and lost them; saw his book plain before him and it vanished; acted his people's parts as he ate; mouthed them as he walked; now cried; now laughed; vacillated between this style and that; now preferred the heroic and pompous; next the plain and simple; now the vales of Tempe; then the fields of Kent or Cornwall; and could not decide whether he was the divinest genius or the greatest fool in the world." --from Orlando

In case anyone was confused, this is why I am like that.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Well, that figures

No sooner do I start on a Project than the forces of the universe intervene. That is to say, I got a job at Georgia Southern, which necessitated a swift move to Statesboro. I've just survived my first week of a 5/5 load, all my stuff is still in boxes, and my cats are still mad at me. And, need I point out, I won't be doing my planned review of all the hiking trails in Athens. Alas.

There are some promising locations here...the McTell Trail, as in Blind Willie, as in "Statesboro Blues." However, it is too damn hot. After it cools off a little, I will talk about the walking...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Surprise Frog

Today's walk: Birchmore Trail, Phase I

Location: Memorial Park

Difficulty: A bit hilly and rugged in spots.

Distance: Map says 2.25 miles, my pedometer says 2.

How to find it: It's behind the administrative building, next to the entrance to Bear Hollow. There are also some entrances from Gran Ellen, Lumpkin St., and Milledge Terrace.

Map accuracy: Fairly good. There's a shorter loop on the near side of Gran Ellen which isn't shown on the map.

Condition of the trail: This section of the trail is well-used. There are some tree falls, but no big obstructions. The ruggedness is due to the terrain; there are steps and hills. You also have to cross Gran Ellen twice.

Critters: Not as many as at the big pond, but there are some creekside bits and a small pond. I startled a frog. It also startled me.

It's a nice walk, with a bit of up and down for exercise. It goes near Lumpkin St. at one point so there is traffic noise there, but for the most part you are walking through a wooded valley along a creek. Sitting on a rock in the midst of flowing water is one of my favorite things to do, and there are several opportunities for that along this trail.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Walking around town with my feet on the ground

I've been walking more, generally speaking, since I started driving less. Currently I have a rental car that runs on E85 so I feel a little less horrified by driving it, even though I'm well aware that ethanol has its own issues. I decided to go looking for a guide book on walks and trails in Athens, or at least a definitive map. Surely, I thought, there must be one.

Apparently not. With all the hippies, good ole boys, ecology majors, and assorted outdoor enthusiasts in this town, you'd think there would be some kind of guide to the trails around here. You would be wrong.

Obviously there is a crying need for one, because I want one. Obviously, the thing to do is create one. I don't have a publisher but I do have this here blog. Onward!

Today's walk: Birchmore Trail, Phase II

Location: Memorial Park

Difficulty: A bit hilly and rugged in spots.

Distance: approximately 1.5 miles, according to my pedometer. I offer no guarantees for the accuracy of my pedometer, because I never calibrated the thing properly and it may prevaricate. But that's what it says. If you walk through the neighborhoods from Milledge Ave. or a bus stop, add another mile and a half or so.

How to find it: You can come in the main entrance to the park at Gran Ellen, or you might try going down Habersham to the cul-de-sac; there's an entrance there that leads more or less directly to the dog park. You can also get a map of the trail from the park office. There are some alternate entrances/unofficial trails from various neighborhoods that surround the park, but if you don't live there they will be exceedingly hard to find and if you do you probably already know where they are.

Map accuracy: Not too good. The map makes it look like the trail parallels the driveway to one side, but there isn't actually a marked trail there; the driveway IS the trail. Once you get down the hill, follow the sidewalk even though the map makes it look like the trail should go between the restrooms and the picnic shelter. It doesn't. At the SW end of the pond, there's a bit marked with rocks that looks like it's the beginning of a trail, but it currently ends in a pile of dirt.

Condition of the trail: Really easy around the pond, good for the portions close to the dog park, pretty rough elsewhere. The map says "cleared and flagged" but the upper loop hasn't been cleared in a while; there's a pretty big tree down that you have to get around. It can also sometimes be hard to tell the difference between the actual trail, the access road, and little spurs that people have made. However, if you like solitude on your walks, and wildlife, this is a good place. I didn't see a single other person while walking the upper loop, but I did see several species of birds. And ran into a few spider webs.

Critters: Squirrels, mockingbirds, cardinals, wrens, a brown thrasher...the usual suspects. When circling the pond I saw a female mallard strolling down the sidewalk, and you can usually see ducks, geese, and turtles (mostly cooters) in the pond. A great blue heron flew in a big circle above my head and off towards the west.

Monday, June 28, 2010

We keep calling it an addiction. When do we hit rock bottom?

I'm home safe and sound now, my cats sitting at my feet in silent welcome. There was some doubt about the getting home part...

I've had more trouble with my car in the last three weeks than I've had since I have owned it. Battery went dead; replaced it. Someone backed into me. Car randomly wouldn't start again. Then the tire went flat. The first and third item could be connected, and be the kind of random mechanical thing that goes wrong with a car of a certain age. The others? Not so much.

In any case, I'm taking it as a sign. There's that video going around, wherein cats re-enact the BP oil spill in ninety seconds or something to that effect. At the end, it says, "You're still not pissed enough to stop driving your car."

Indeed. Our last two Presidents...if not more...have referred to our dependence on oil as an "addiction." One of the symptoms of an addiction is that the addict continues the addictive behavior, even in the face of evidence that it is destructive; even after it harms those he or she should care about; even after it ruins the addict's life and reputation, even after it causes him or her to violate previously held principles and associate with questionable people because they are the ones willing to continue to feed the addiction.

We watch birds and dolphins and communities dying on the news and are horrified; then we turn the TV off and drive to work. We ignore strong evidence that we are making our planet uninhabitable, over-inflate anything that suggests otherwise and crow that it PROVES those scientists were wrong all along, then ignore it again when those allegations turn out to be false. Our continued military entanglements in the Middle East, including at least one of our current two wars, are directly related to our desire to protect our access to the oil resources of the region, and our reputation has suffered profoundly as a result. We cozy up to and support regimes whose values we do not share, because they have oil and we want it. We have become a people who think it's ok to invade a country that did us no harm, and to torture suspected enemies, and to swallow obvious lies about our government's motives with equanimity...when that country happens to have a lot of oil. Oil has shaped US foreign policy in profound ways for the last 70 years, and the results are ugly.

Our Gulf coast is dying. So is the Nigerian coast, and that's our doing too, because 40% of our imported oil comes from there. The Gulf disaster is already the biggest ecological disaster in US history, and it's not nearly over yet. It's full impact has not yet been seen or estimated. It is much, much worse than we think. The last biggest ecological disaster in US history was also an oil spill.

Another symptom of addiction is amnesia.

They say addicts won't change their ways until they reach rock bottom. Have we reached rock bottom yet? God, I hope so. I don't want to see what is worse than this. Of course, "rock bottom" is relative. People reach it at different points, objectively; but they always reach it when they look in the mirror and say, "I don't want to live like this any more."

I don't want to live like this any more. I don't want to feel like I am purchasing lives for the sake of my convenience every time I fill up my gas tank.

Yet...and this is the bitter horror of it...I can't simply declare my personal independence from oil just like that. I have a car because I need one. Like a lot of you do. Our whole culture is built around cars, which is precisely why this is such a huge intractable problem. But cultures are made up of individual people, and there's a whole lot of room between everything and nothing. There are more ways to beat an addiction than going cold turkey. Instead of boycotting BP, boycott your own participation in this collective oil addiction. Find a way that counts, that matters to you.

I don't drive a whole lot anyway; UGA has a pretty good bus system, and Athens is a relatively walker-and-biker-friendly city. I could probably cut down my driving to one day a week, run my errands on that day, and walk or ride the bus the rest of the time. If I drive to Atlanta for the weekend...which I sometimes do...then I'll make up for it by skipping a week. If I go to visit someone who lives outside the reach of the bus, I can go by the grocery store on the way home. I can save my pennies so the next car I buy will run on biodiesel or be electric.

Another way would be to calculate my typical mileage per week, and cut it down. Could you cut a third of your driving out? Half? What about buying local produce instead of something shipped in from halfway across the country? That counts too.

Use public transportation. Politically, push for more of it...more buses (ours run on natural gas) and more trains. If Amtrak went where I wanted to go in a rational amount of time, I'd never get on a plane. If there was a train from Athens to Atlanta (like there used to be) I'd hardly ever drive. Walk, ride a bicycle, carpool. Do it like your life depends on it, and the lives of our descendants.

Oil is energy; energy is power. Being addicted to power is never pretty, and never good. We can change the way we relate to power, politically, inter-personally, economically, and in our relationship with the natural world. We have to. It's the way forward, out of this hole.

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.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Right Wing Freak Show

I've been observing the soi-disant "conservative movement" for some time now, and I think I should say something.

Y'all do know the rest of us think you're crazy, right?

I should preface this by saying that I'm specifically not speaking of the self-identified Republicans or other conservatives who still have a lick of sense. I wish to praise and encourage, not disparage you, poor beleaguered souls. Though we might have a word or two about the company you have been keeping.

That's actually just what I want to talk about. Your fellow-travelers. You know. Them.

The birthers. The wingnuts. The people who think Obama is a radical leftist, or an Arab, or a citizen of Kenya. The ones who claim that there's no such thing as separation of church and state, and that the Constitution, against all tradition and the words in the document itself, is based on "'God's law. " Or that global warming is a hoax. I could go on in this vein for a while. Far too long. Lately, there's been this brick-throwing problem. Not metaphorical bricks; literal ones.

We have our own crazies, it's true. God love 'em. But we keep them where they will do the most good, out on the range and off the grid experimenting with alternative sources of electricity and fuel, working out the bugs so the rest of us don't have to turn off the lights to take a shower when we finally get our solar-powered home.

You run yours for office. Worse, you vote for them. Just for one example, Mike Huckabee sincerely believes that the Constitution should be altered to conform to the Bible. He is not only not automatically disqualified, he is considered a serious contender. And, well, Sarah Palin. Michele Bachmann. Need I say more?

Barack Obama is not a radical, by the way. You can tell because a real leftist radical wouldn't be caught dead in a suit. Or running for President. Or voting. They think the whole system is corrupt and the only way to transform society is through making their own clothes, growing their own pot, and barter. You see, I have met actual leftists, and actual radicals, and hung out with them quite a bit. They are more fun than your radicals because they are often stoned, and less worrisome because they think guns are categorically wrong rather than thinking of them as accessories. You should try hanging out with some, yourself. Then you will know better than to mistake Barack Obama for one.

He is also no kind of socialist. He's a moderate Democrat just perceptibly to the left of Bill Clinton. Try not to hyperventilate.

You have been listening to your own talk radio too long. You've lost perspective. You gave up facts and truth and reasoned debate for hostile polemic, and now it has come home to roost. You're just lost, and you're following the loudest voices, because they got you some air time and traction a couple decades ago, and it has worked so well for so long, so you thought, because you weren't noticing while the bozo you elected was running the country off a cliff. But the problem with letting the shouty people do your public relations is that they attract more like themselves, and the next thing you know you're losing the middle and kissing Rush Limbaugh's ass. It is not a good place to be.'s getting worse.

Don't tell me I don't know what I'm talking about. I live in Paul Broun's district*, and I know crazy when I see it in my mailbox. In addition to the cracktastic screeds he likes to send his constituents, have you seen his website? This is what you have wrought.

It pains me to bring this up. I love freaks. I live in Athens. But, dang, baby.

*Half of Athens got gerrymandered out of John Barrow's district and now shares a Congressman with Habersham County. Do not speak of it further.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Imaginary American

My family, the part from Europe, came to these shores very early. Pretty much as soon as there was a boat to Virginia, they were on it. I'm a descendent of two Revolutionary War captains (Capt. Thomas Amis and Capt. Thomas Austin) and also, via my great-grandmother, of one Thomas Pitman. Pitman was involved in Bacon's Rebellion, which was sort of the seventeenth-century practice run for the Revolution, except that it didn't go so well. Many of the participants were hanged; my progenitor was pardoned by King Charles II, and thus I am here to talk to you today and carry on the family tendency towards troublemaking. I am a tenth-generation American...not including the ones who were already living on this continent and whose generations are uncountable. I don't think this makes me better than anyone else, mind. I think America is something you show up and participate in, and what you do counts far more than how long your history here is. Nonetheless, I do have history.

Members of my family have served this country in various wars (well, some of them were technically fighting against the United States, but we will gloss over that.) My father was a decorated hero in World War II and four of my five brothers served in Vietnam. Many members of my family have served their communities and people as educators, from my great-grandfathers on two sides of my family, my grandmother and great-aunt, my mother, my aunt, my sister, and myself.

I was born and raised in a small town in north Georgia, at the southern end of the Appalachians, and have lived in Georgia all my life.

And yet, I have a sneaking feeling Sarah Palin and her ilk would not consider me a "real American." This in spite of the fact that my family gave up secessionist tendencies over a hundred years ago, unlike some people.

It seems you are only a real American, according to the Republicans, if you live in the states or rural areas where they have the most support, and you agree with the majority there. In other words, if you vote Republican. Being a citizen and knowing what the Constitution actually says don't count any more. Being a part of this country's two-hundred-year tradition of volunteerism and "community organizing" is obviously right out.

I now live in the liberal hippy-dippy freaktastic indie-rock epicenter of Georgia, described by comedian Patton Oswalt as a "weird bubble dream city of goodness," which lies along the axis of woo running south on US 441 from Asheville, NC...that is to say, Athens, GA. Athens, a city of about 100,000 people, has its own Human Rights Festival and its own drag king troupe, more independent record stores than corporate ones, and a Tree That Owns Itself in defiance of human-centric notions of property rights. The University of Georgia is here and while we do have the Cult of the Bulldawg and a thriving population of rednecks (smile when you say that, bubba), we also have suspiciously liberal-sounding educational practices such as the only School of Ecology in the country. I personally have an MFA in Creative Writing with a graduate certificate in Women's Studies, and I work in the English department. I recycle and eat organic, locally grown food. I have been known to organize in my community. I even worked on the campaign of a local Democrat...which around here, I might add, makes me a political moderate.

Apparently all this means I am not a "real American." I guess that makes me an imaginary American.

All right, then. I will imagine. America.

I imagine an America where everyone can get health care, and we have the lowest infant mortality rate in the world...instead of the highest among industrialized nations.

I imagine an America where the government does not issue slithery and putrid justifications for the torture of prisoners, because no one in any position of authority would ever condone such a thing.

I imagine an America where we do not allow children to go homeless or hungry, because we recognize our obligations to each other as citizens of a common society.

I imagine an America where the Constitution is both well-understood and well-revered by those who vow to uphold it and whose authority to govern flows from it.

I imagine an America where no one suffers from the delusion that one can bestow democracy or freedom at gunpoint.

I imagine an America where I, as a woman, get paid equally for equal work, and no one questions that my health is a legitimate concern, even when it conflicts with the desire of others to impose their religious mores on everyone or to avoid being grossed out by the facts of reproduction.

I imagine an America where dissent is as patriotic as Thomas Paine, and not only when you agree with conservatives.

I imagine an America that lives up to its better self. I imagine an America that is not divided. I imagine an America that remembers who we really are.

I like that America. I want to live there. It's not where I have been living, to be sure, but it seems like a place that is possible.

Let's go.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Our Adventures on Tybee Island

I like to take my son somewhere new for spring break every year. Last year, it was Milledgeville, Flannery O'Connor's house, and the Okeefenokee Swamp. This year, it was the beach. He liked last year's vacation as well as this one; after all, he is my child.

He wanted to get up early and watch the sun rise. If you have never seen the sun rise over the ocean, I recommend it. The water glowed pink reflecting the sky and there were little shore birds running to and fro, as well as the usual seagulls.

I found a stick and drew a labyrinth in the sand, a seven-circuit labyrinth. Then I walked it. This is one of my personal things; not that other people don't do it, but I have written about labyrinths and in the year after my mother died I walked all the labyrinths I could find. So I drew my labyrinth in the sand, walked it, and faced the rising sun, which showed fiercely orange-red through the clouds on the horizon.

Then my son flung up his hands and sang, "Nants ingonyama bagithi baba! Sithi uhhmm ingonyama! Nants ingonyama bagithi baba! Sithi uhhmm ingonyama! Ingonyama!" Which is, of course, the opening lines to the theme for The Lion King.

Later, we went wandering about. There are many, many cats on Tybee. Every place we went has cats: the lighthouse, Captain Mike's, the Crab Shack. They all seem pretty well-fed and sassy.

We walked past a car, and Raven remarked, "That guy looks very stern and angry. He looks like...who was that guy who was Vice President under Bush?"

"Dick Cheney."

"He looks Dick Cheney angry."

So, then, we went to go on a dolphin tour. While we were waiting for the boat, we discussed the number of pelicans in view. "You said four, now you say three."

"One flew away."

"Right, so long as we are clear on the number of pelicans. It's vitally important."

"Darn right it is!" says my son. "We have to keep up with the number of pelicans. The Marsh Pelican Naturalist Society will be very disappointed if we don't. There's a grant. Pelican population survey grant. The participation of the ordinary man, such as myself, and the ordinary Mom, such as yourself, is crucial."

"You are totally making that up."

"Yes, it's a gift. I inherited it from my Dad. You may have noticed how he tells elaborate lies on short notice with a straight face."


"Anyway, all I have to do is turn in my four to five page scientific report on these pelicans, and we're all set."

"How are you going to get five pages out of three pelicans?"

"There were four."

"Nonetheless. 'There were four pelicans sleeping on poles. One flew away. The end.' That's it. That's not even one page. You can't base a report on that."

"I'll make some stuff up. Height, weight, know."

"That," I said severely, "is not science."

"It's scientific guessing."

"Guessing is not science. Knowledge is science. Facts! Here, listen, kid. This is what science is: If you observe the pelican's behavior carefully for days, and write down whenever it eats, poops, or interacts with another pelican, that's zoology. If you take note of the pelican's diet and habitat and its interactions with other species, that's ecology. If you weigh the pelican and measure its windspeed, that's physics. If you kill the pelican and dissect it, that's biology. And if you interview the pelican, that's social science."

My son died laughing at this juncture, though he recovered in time to see dolphins.