Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Fountain

I usually see cool indie movies several months after the buzz has died down. It's the same with clothing trends... By the time I can actually accept the trendiness and convince myself to buy something, it's already out of style.

But I loved this movie, because it was bizarre and complicated and beautiful and confusing, much like my life. (And, as a side note, instead of CGI, most of the backgrounds were composited images taken of chemical reactions in petri dishes. I never would have guessed it wasn't computer work.) It's a beautiful and tragic love story between a husband who is a doctor making progress on a cure for cancer, and a wife who is dying of cancer.

There is one scene in particular that I can't get over. She is in the bathtub (this is very tastefully done) and he is outside the tub bathing her. She confesses that her pain has gotten worse, and his first reaction is to call the doctor. She stops him, attempting to explain how she feels inside as well, to explain the changes that he can't see. He fails to understand. She kisses him, and eventually pulls him into the tub, fully clothed. He wants to fix the problem, she wants him to struggle with her, to come to where she is.

It's one of the great mysteries of life, how to struggle with those around us. The question extends from people suffering in places I haven't even heard of all the way to those closest to us. And I believe I will wrestle with this for a very long time.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Home Again, Home Again

I am home from my 2,000 mile driving tour of the Urban South, with a mountain of research, an allergic reaction to moldy documents, and quite a bit of exhaustion.

Friday my boyfriend met me in Atlanta and we toured the World of Coca Cola... or, as we like to call it, the shrine of American economic global imperialism. It was kind of like Disneyland, only all about Coke. Then we drove to Memphis, and let it be known that Atlanta traffic is worse than Houston (not sure how that is possible, particularly since Atlanta is a quarter of the size).

We spent the weekends visiting with friends who may as well be family, that I hadn't really seen in 2 years. We went to the zoo, Beale Street, and the Civil Rights Museum, like any good tourists.

I remembered at the beginning of my trip that one of my research subjects has papers in Little Rock, so we stopped there on the way home. There was a gold mine of correspondence, in particular.

My brain is still swimming from everything I encountered and thought about on the road, particularly in regards to how I need to better connect the "ivory tower"-ness of my dissertation project with the actual reality of daily life. If race and gender issues are what I'm trying to uncover in my research, I need to do me more intentional about being a part of the process of unification and equality. More on this later, I'm sure.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

How to Make a Good First Impression

I should have learned by now that eating while driving is not a good idea. Especially when on the way to an appointment at one of the most elite medical schools in the country. I spilled oil and vinegar all over my skirt and tomato all over my shirt, which I didn't realized until I got out of my car in the parking garage. My suitcase full of clothes was of course back where I'm staying, and I didn't have too many options. My plan was to find a bathroom and try to scrub it off, then wait until my clothes dried to go in.

But when you exit the parking garage you have to sign in as a visitor, and they call someone to let them know you are there, and that person has to let you in especially. I kept my hands and arms awkwardly crossed until I had to shake hands. In most archives, you go to one room and sit there with the documents. But of course, here the archivist was really nice and walked me around to introduce me to people and get the documents I needed. So from now on I'll be that researcher with the stains on her clothes. Excellent.

After spending a few hours at Morehouse, I slipped into Ebeneezer Baptist Church just before it closed. Three generations of Kings, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., preached there. I got choked up sitting in the pews, looking at the stage, imagining the grassroots change that developed from those people. Sure Dr. King's sermons were motivating, but he had to be motivated by his congregants, the people who kept coming and kept hoping.

And it makes me sad that the Church is not known for being the genesis of social justice. We recreate patterns of oppression in our local congregations and ignore the problems of our brothers and sisters worldwide. I am fortunate to be a part of a church that is active, but we could do so much more.

The Center for Non-violent Social Change next door feautures exhibits on King, Corretta Scott King, Ghandi, and Rosa Parks. I am increasingly impressed with Ms. King. I knew that she was the first woman to preach a statutory service at St. Paul's cathedral in London, but was unaware she filled in to speak in her husband's absence so often. And she spoke and led so much on her own.

"I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills." --Ghandi

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

One Archives' Trash is My Treasure

In case you are keeping score, in the last week I have been to six cities/towns, stayed with three different sets of people I didn't know beforehand (all of whom were quite lovely), and driven the amount of hours that equal one day. In less than 200 miles, my odometer will roll to the 100,000 mile mark. And in case you are wondering, I am very tired. And very happy. And a little homesick for the people I love and my own space.

Anyway, when I got to the AUC here in Atlanta today, the archivists informed me that I was quite lucky, as they were literally about to throw the files away when I set up the appointment a few weeks ago. I'm not sure how I feel about researching a topic that others feel is worthy of the garbage. The records were inconsecutive and indescriminate, and probably a mystery to those not familiar with the organization. But they were useful to me. Not as useful as I had hoped, but useful nonetheless. They are keeping the files specifically for my future use, and promised to hand them on to me if they ever near the garbage again.

I debriefed in Grant Park, feeling the need to walk and sit outside. After so many hours in a car and stuffy archives I am really craving the outdoors. And at the moment I am craving sleep.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Ah, I love the smell of moldy documents in the morning. Seriously, my hat goes off to the brave men and women who work as archivists and inhale all that dust and mustiness day after day. Today involved more digging, lots of photocopying, some discoveries of bios, and of course laughing at the '70s haircuts in the yearbooks.

I finished early enough to go to the Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson's home. I sincerely missed my family as it reminded me of our many vacations to historic homes and battlefields throughout the continental United States. Not to mention my parents pulled over EVERY time they saw a historical marker. So what do I choose to do with free time in a new city? That's right, mom and dad, I blame you.

I'm always interested, though, after spending God knows how many years studying history, at how historic sites and museums portray their heroes. For example, while the site dealt fairly with the slave issue, I saw not a word mentioned about Jackson's Indian removal policy. But did you know he imported wallpaper from France and had 37 foster children?

I walked around downtown for a while... Nashville may well be one of the few places on earth that begins live music in multiple venues on one street at 10:00 AM. And I had to laugh when I drove down Music Row and saw just as many lawyer offices as I did recording labels.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Life is a Highway?

Well I thought my visit with Southern relatives was complete after a big breakfast (including biscuits and grits) and a knitting lesson. I will not, by the way, be joining the feminist knitting revolution any time soon. Even when I got the hang of it, it drove me mad.

But alas the battery died in my car. With the collaboration of my great uncle, a boat battery charger, and Carl's garage my car came back to life and put me on the road to Nashville just in time to sit on the freeway for an hour. Let me just say it is not a good thing when an 18 wheeler catches fire and burns up completely (I think the driver got out in time). Then I hit a rainstorm, etc., etc. Needless to say I lost some research time.

The archives at Meharry are a glorified closet but have good information. One thing I have realized, though, about choosing a topic in which the subjects experienced racism and sexism is that the sources reflect their experience. The information is there but it requires a great deal of digging. The woman helping me seemed as excited as I was to uncover some of the data on women.

I finished the day with a walk around Centennial Park and a few hours writing and relaxing at a local coffee shop. I'm staying with my roommate's brother's best friend's fiance's sister. Yeah, I'm confused too.

Sunday, June 03, 2007


I am part of a generation and culture who is increasingly disconnected from extended family. I didn't grow up near my grandparents or any other family for that matter, so I didn't have the luxury of playing with cousins or aunts and uncles dropping by. I was also never good at keeping in touch with my "greats", apart from an annual Christmas letter and picture.

But they all love me to pieces. I have visited with four different great aunts this weekend. One is completely dedicated to taking care of my sweet great grandmother, who lives with her. Her main support system is a dedicated group of sitters and she enjoyed having me around. Two are sisters who took me to dinner, where they antagonized each other like teenagers, bugged me about getting married, and had me laughing with their stories. Back at her house, one of the sisters talked to me like I was her best girlfriend. The fourth great aunt lives with her husband and was tickled to death (I've been in the South just a few days and listen to me!) to take me to brunch and cook for me. She considers me a grandchild as she has no children of her own. I am leaving here with Christmas ornaments from her collection and any books I want from her shelf.

I struggle to make connections sometimes... To listen to their conceptions of race, to bridge the technology gap (one aunt was amazed when I showed her a picture slideshow, ordered her an out of print book, and found a local store where she could buy her favorite shoes by using what my uncle called my "miracle box"), and to explain the complexities of my own life while trying to understand theirs. But somehow I understand my own life better by being with them. I can't really explain it. I came from them for a reason.

Saturday, June 02, 2007


I'm taking the weekend to spend time with extended family in Alabama. I have a lot of relatives here with "great" before their title. Driving through Mississippi then rural Alabama I had waves of nostalgia. Summer visits as a kid involved eating "dinner" at noon and then eating it all again for "supper," catching fireflies, fried okra, mosquitoes, southern accents, and small towns.

I am fortunate to have known three of my great grandmothers. Two passed on a few years ago and the other just turned 99. She was spry and with it for most of my life so it was a bit of a shock when her health deteriorated in the past months. I remember climbing in her lap as a kid, watching the birds from her sunroom, and, most fondly, sitting on the porch swing with her like there was nothing else going on the world. She's the sweet Southern woman who loved everyone and told them all to go to church. Most of them did.

When I arrived tonight I was glad she recognized me. Every time I came to her bedside I received a big smile. She laughed when I told her it's ok if she doesn't remember my name, just remember that I'm her favorite great granddaughter. I fought back tears for the first hour I was here, it was hard to see her like this. At one point she told me she's sorry she's sick and cried. I'm sorry too...

As I held her hand I thought about how I want to be 99 looking at three generations ahead of me, to have loved and lived such a full life. She's still beautiful and has quite a spirit despite her health and age. I am grateful to be connected to her.