Saturday, July 31, 2010
Which is cool. Maybe.
Based on "People Say I'm Crazy, and Threw My Life Away":
That sorta sucks, and happened twice, too. Although, I wouldn't mind his income.
Based on the end of "Savannah, Day 1":
That is AWESOME! Except I doubt that Vonnegut ever used "awesome" in his writing, or at least in the way I just used it.
"Monsters Escape from Boxes" means
I'm not sure about that one. I usually aim for "Joan Didion" when I use repetition. At least Stein was experimental. And a girl.
"The Jerk from Christmas" means that:
I have no idea who he is. Is this good or bad? He came up on a couple of other tries, too.
I ran several more posts through the software, sure that Flannery O'Connor would come up on something. Instead, I came to the conclusion that, aside from Gertrude Stein, either the programmers don't have girl authors included in their little game or I write like misogynist dudes.
Friday, July 30, 2010
So, here is the rest of the story.
I called Monday to get the doctor to release the refills. My last post may not have been clear on this, but I had seen the doctor in May, before I left for my summer destinations, and the doctor gave me a prescription for two months worth of Happy Pills and Energy Pills. I still had a month left (I'm not sure how, possibly from a build-up of appointments being less than 30 days apart) from the prior visit, so, at the pharmacy later that day, I picked up the remaining refill from the previous prescription and had them put the two new ones on file. The insurance company won't cover more than one month's worth at a time, so I didn't try to get all three filled at once.
Last week, I went in to get refill #2. That was was when the pharmacy here said that the pharmacy back home said that the other two refills were expired. How does that happen? I mean, it wasn't as if I let months elapse or anything. I was a little behind schedule, but on schedule nonetheless. Anyway, the pharmacy called the doctor's office, and the doctor said I had to have an appointment before she would authorize the refills.
First, I have an appointment for when I return -- or did. Second, she already authorized these. I'm entitled to them by the rules of prescribing and whatnot. I'm not scamming her for more pills, these pills really only work if you need them so I'm not trying to get high, and I do need them, which means I'm not going to be out there selling them on the streets.
All of this tells me that the attention to detail is, as usual, lax because my chart should show that all is operating as it should, except that the pharmacy won't fill the already-prescribed prescriptions without a call from the doctor. Maybe I don't understand some of the procedure here, or am missing something that I inadvertently did wrong; but, if I am, shouldn't they at least return my calls to let me know?
Ah, yes: The calls! I called on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and today. I didn't call on Tuesday because I was afraid to get them angry at me for being a pest. I also always waited until afternoon, and made sure I had my sweet, supplicant, "I'm so sorry for bothering you because I know that you are so busy but could you be troubled" (to do your fucking job) face on. After all, they control the flow of the medicine.
Every day, the same message: "This is my name. This is my phone number. This is the pharmacy's phone number. I have an appointment for this day. I'm out of town. These have already been prescribed, the pharmacy wants approval to fill them. I called yesterday/yesterday and the day before/yesterday, the day before, and Monday. My prescriptions are Happy Pills and Energy Pills. No, I don't know the dosage, but this should be on file. All of this should be on file. I'm having withdrawal symptoms this is becoming urgent."
Maybe tears would have made my point quicker, or perhaps the terms "suicidal ideation." Sure, that last is playing down, dirty and dangerous by lying; but what if I was? Thank heavens I'm just a garden-variety depressive. What the hell does a person have to do to get their damn doctor to return a call -- a doctor who is supposed to be so concerned about monitoring patients?
At which point, taken in whole with my prior experiences with similar doctors, I realized that their business is -- or no longer can be, I'm not sure which -- monitoring patients on the drugs so much as monitoring the distribution of the drugs. What I'm on, how much, and why -- as well as my last and next appointments -- is all on file, but all of that is beside the point of making sure that I don't get more than I am entitled to. I get this. It's serious business. Still, even if I was a drug-seeker, shouldn't the doctor have a little more of a grasp of what is going on with my case? It is, after all, on paper somewhere within 100 feet of the phone.
Anyway, I called this afternoon, leaving about 20 -22 hours between my last call and this. I admit to being a tad grouchy by pointing out that this is the fourth time I've called this week and that I had given all of this information already.
At this point, I almost started seeing this as a game: how long will this drag out? How ridiculous will this become?
Then, I called my G.P. and made an appointment with her on my return. She can either refer me to another Happy Pill doctor, or she can prescribe them herself. Whichever, as long as I can get them, can have someone to consult if something seems to be going wrong with them, and can expect my phone calls to be returned. I mean, damn!
I also contemplated the suggestions to go to a walk-in clinic. Even if they told me that they couldn't prescribe something that they weren't able to monitor, even if they didn't take my insurance, it would still beat sitting around and cringing every time that I had to call my doctor's office yet again because I so want to go Bitchy Broad on them but feel that I should be sugar-and-spice so that I can get my damn prescriptions.
After the call to the G.P. office, Gentleman Caller and I went out for a workout walk along the canal. If nothing else, the desire to dissipate the jittery anxious energy, focus my brain on something productive, and find some non-chemical means of mood elevation (although some chemical means were also employed), has generated lots of words and 7 workouts so far this week.
Finally -- FINALLY, fucking finally -- the phone rang. My prescriptions are waiting.
Also, about fucking time!
So, I'm off to the drug store. Relief is at hand! Life on shall resume over the next week.
Thank you, all, again.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
You drink coffee. Before you empty the cup, the spinning in you head starts spitting off thoughts. This one runs there. That one cuts across its path here. Another shoots by, close enough to knock you off balance. You scramble to chase them.
Standing, the floor rocks. You heel-toe down the hall, holding the wall. You are not hung over. You drank nothing but water the night before. A basket overturns in your head and a million tasks spill in front of you. Each task is an unrolling scroll. Higher up, a bowl tips, sloshing letters that clump into words. You must order them all.
You get to the computer. You find your notebook. List all of the tasks. Write them down. They must be done. Today. You feel the energy to get them done. They know. They all demand to be done right away.
Begin. Chase them. Write, write, write. You must get both hands to work on separate lists. You must enlist your feet. Alas, only one list at a time. No, one task at a time. No! Go back to the list because you are forgetting things in the space between the spill in the head and the ink on the page. Start something! No! Something else! Agitation replaces energy. Anxiety replaces agitation.
All the wrong thoughts catch. Anger sparks, flickers, smolders into sadness. You can do everything. You can do nothing. Your gathered scattered thoughts keep tumbling out of your arms, across the floor, out of the room. The agitation is better than the gloom. The agitation has energy. You fear the funk, the existential funk, the dark blue gunk glopping over your brain.
Go work out. You walk, powered by your bitching the whole way. Bitching, fueled by annoyance, can run a straight line. Your companion does not want you to follow that line. He changes the subject. He changes it again, and then again, to keep you from obsessing on the wrong thoughts.
You shower. You have calmed. The anxiety naps. Your head still feels fluffy, but you have something like a list. Follow it. The list will give you focus. You can't get to the list yet because you have to write. Not your work. A blog post connected to the smoldering sadness of anger blocks the other thoughts. You get this blog post out of your head. The jittery tapping of typing fits. You can survive for the duration.
You finish. You feel bands gripping your insides, spanning your middle. They hold you together. You shiver, your entire body aching from tension, as if you were in freezing cold weather, but you are not cold. You are, in fact, quite warm. You can't relax.
You take your list. Focus on the road. Focus. You focus so much that you take the wrong path. You correct. Focus. Focus. Task one. Task two. Task three.
You forgot to itemize task three. You knew that you knew what you needed in task three. You had picked up your notebook to make the list. Then another thought dashed in, needed attention. Right now. You didn't go back to the list. Now, you wander around, hoping your memory will jog. The music makes you sad. You can't stop thinking about how sad. The gyroscope spins again. You try to take deep breaths but your chest feels so heavy, so inflexible, unable to expand enough. The air is insufficient.
You return. You remember task four.
"Hi, I called two days ago. No one called me back. It was about my prescriptions."
The girl on the other end sounds professional. Not always the case. "Yes," she says, "Your name."
"Clio. Clio Bluestocking," you say. "I am out of town. I have an appointment when I return. Before I left, I had an appointment and the doctor gave me two refills. I went to get them refilled. The CVS here called the CVS there. The CVS there said the refills had expired. The CVS here called your office. Your office wouldn't refill; but I had those two refills prescribed. I called on Monday. I'm getting a little worried. It's been a week since I'm out. I'm not feeling right."
"May I have a number where you can be reached," she asks. "I will leave the doctor a message."
You give her your number. You give her the number of the CVS. You remind her that you called on Monday. You refrain from begging.
"We will call you back to let you know the status," she says.
You suspect no one has looked at your chart. You suspect because you usually have to tell the doctor what you are taking and in what doses when you visit. You suspect because you often have to remind the doctor that you are on Happy Pills AND Energy Pills when she writes out the prescription for only one. You suspect that "must come in for an appointment" is the standard answer, without consultation, when a pharmacy calls in for refill, regardless of the patient. Regardless of the medication. Regardless of the next appointment scheduled.
You worry that, when you re-scheduled the last appointment -- the one that you insisted on making for August knowing that you would be out-of-town, but they insisted on making for July and told you to just reschedule later if you weren't going to be in town -- the person with whom you spoke did not, in fact, reschedule; or she gave you the new appointment but didn't cancel the last and so now the doctor thinks that you are skipping appointments and still trying to get meds. You suspect because the person kept putting you on hold, dropping the call, and behaving in general as if she didn't have time for you.
Your head spins. You become angry. Your thoughts tumble over one another. You become sad. You are certain that you breathe, but you feel like you aren't getting enough air. You become happy. You watch your hands. The shaking will being any second. You cry when Morgan Freeman reads Invictus as Jason Bourne tours the prison. You hold your breath so you will not sob out loud, beyond reason, and alarm your companion.
You try to sleep. You compose more blog posts, e-mails, paper proposals in your head. You try to shut them down. Focus on your breaths. In. Out. Still not enough air. Out. In. You jostle awake from a bad dream. Your body tenses against the freezing cold, but the air is mild.
You know life on and life off. You know the difference. You know that you cannot take life off. You don't know how you survived life off for 23 years. You understand why breaks since were so disastrous. Four weeks until the next appointment. Four weeks to face the doctor chastising you. Four weeks to get the damn prescription. Four weeks of work lost, just trying to hold your insides in place. Four weeks of the crazy trying to alienate your companion. Four weeks of exhaustion trying to hold the crazy in.
You wait. In two minutes the clock will chime 9. Your hope that the phone will ring holds you together. One minute. Counting. You wait. 9 am. You wait.
You still wait.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
The first is the "smacked in the face with a lollipop" stage. This expression comes from my brother. Once, he and his girlfriend got into a fight at the mall. Skipping over the sexist reasons that they were at the mall in the first place, the sexist descriptions of her behavior, and his general sense of entitlement because he was spending the money, we come to a point in the disagreement at which he called her "bitch." Moments before, he had bought her one of those big, stripey lollipops, the ones about the size of your face, and she had been slurping on it. When he called her "bitch," she hauled off and whopped him upside the head with it.
"I didn't know what to do!" he told me. "I had never been hit in the face with a lollipop before. Was it going to leave rainbow colored stripes on my face? Was she going to continue to eat it? How do you react to being smacked in the face with a lollipop?"
Well, she drew back to hit him again, so he grabbed it out of her hand, threw it on the lovely and sanitary floor outside of the food court, and left her there as he headed back to the garage for his car.
So, that is Stage One: Stunned. This isn't happening because no one in their right mind would do something like this; and, yet, hear I am facing this. They did not train us for this scenario.
Stage Two is rationalization. You have accepted that this has, in fact, happened. Now, you try to understand why this has happened. You try to figure out what may have provoked such behavior. You maybe try to take some blame on yourself, telling yourself that perhaps you deserved it. You try to use this understanding to get you through the next stages, but it can seldom prevent the next stages. Sometimes it can, if you have two rational people involved and the slight is small and clearly a misunderstanding. If you have realized that the slight was, in some way, intentional and intentional as a slight, well, I'm not sure if the next two stages are unavoidable.
Stage Three is hurt. The other person has hit you, metaphorically speaking. Even if you take it on the chin, you still feel it. You do, after all, have feelings. I have tried to stay in this stage, turning it all in on myself, blaming myself, wallowing in depression and self-loathing because I want to do anything that I can to avoid the next step.
Anger. Goddamn them! How dare they say those things! How dare they project their issues onto you! How dare they! Fuck them! And you know, now that you think about it, this is entirely keeping with a negative side of their nature that you had always ignored! Assholes!
Anger can stick around for a long time. A LONG time. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Anger, for instance, allows you to have a more complicated understanding of the other person if you had been unwilling to see their more scathing side. Anger, often coupled with hurt, allows you to protect yourself from walking into the same situation again. Anger can make you stronger. Anger can make you stick up for yourself or someone else. Anger, however, has to be controlled. There is a reason that revenge is a dish best served cold. If you act on the anger, you have to be calm and calculating, otherwise, it will consume you.
Anger, then, is Stage Four. From here, you can go in two directions -- ok, maybe three. The Final Stage is, of course, forgiveness. Goddamn, but forgiveness is difficult. Forgiveness means that you have learned your lessons, internalized them, and detached from the emotion of the situation. At least, ideally you have detached. I'm not sure that detachment is actually possible in most people's world; but you have reached a place where the whole incident doesn't really have an impact on your day-to-day decisions. You have been able to say "Dumbass, be gone!" And the dumbass is, in fact, gone for the time being.
Actually, the Final Stage may not be "forgiveness" so much as "banishing the dumbass." I like that better. It seems more attainable, and (at least to me) imply that the dumbass could return, but that isn't your fault because he's just being the dumbass that he is and you will probably have to banish him again.
If you are a person who can go straight to banishing dumbasses, please share your secret. I am not so skilled. I want to hop straight to banishing the dumbasses, but I constitutionally must to go in other directions, first.
Quite often, I find that I must first become entirely exhausted by the anger. I rant and rave, I plot bloody revenge, I write blog posts. In my younger days, I did stuff for which I am still embarassed. Alcohol wasn't even involved in some of those youthful incidents. So, I know this part of the process very well. Than, when I can no longer take the force of the anger on my body, psyche, and emotions -- and everyone around me has turned my anger into a joke, and runs from the mere mention of my name -- I just give up. I'm beaten. You win, here is your forgiveness or whatever the hell it is you want, I'm hitting the showers then moving to Timbuktu or outer Mongolia or even Connecticut. I hear they have pizza there.
Right now, I'm exploring other, perhaps wiser and more effective options. In particular, I'm considering something that involves success, sweetness and light as an effective tool of passive revenge. This "rising above it" method means doing a good job, being a decent person, and skipping the bullshit, while also being aware that, in doing so, you are showing up the person who pissed you off. The first part: not so difficult because it's what you want to do anyway. The second part is where the danger lies. If you are still thinking in terms of revenge, then you cant really go straight to that Final Stage. You've kept the dumbass around in order to exact a sideways sort of revenge, so he isn't really banished.
Then, again, you might have reasons to keep dumbasses around, revenge or not. Maybe, for instance, you aren't in a position to banish because you have to continue to interact with them because they are your boss or advisor or brother. Maybe, you feel that you need them around to remind you the consequences of having dumbasses around. One dumbass whose techniques you know, blocks the way for other new, dumbasses; or, one dumbass serves as a constant reminder of the ways dumbasses behave, so you can use the dumbass as a measuring rod for new applicants for the role. Yet another reason may be that you need to allow the dumbass to lurk a bit longer until you can effectively shut him down -- or attempt to -- at least once, to make your point. Making your point will be the act of banishment (understanding, of course, that dumbasses always try to come back from banishement).
In my particular case here, I know that the people involved in both scenarios can say nasty, mean things about me to important people, and that I can prove them wrong by just doing my stuff and being sweet to everyone I meet. I stand and fall on my own, and anyone who would take their word over my evidence is someone who should be banished, if possible, as well. In one of my cases, diddly squat will shut him down. I spent years trying before I seized my opportunity and escaped, and I had to escape because he was such a first class dumbass. I just won't walk into any situations again where I may encounter him. Lesson learned there. Dumbass, be gone!
In the other, the one from the last post, well, I must make one -- and only one -- attempt to register my view of the situation in an effort to shut it down. If it doesn't work, so be it. If it does, great. You see, I know that we will be in a similar sitation again in a few months, and I fear that he will try this shit again. All I need is a comeback. I need something that can be said sweetly, with maybe a touch of self-deprecation and a huge dose of humor, but that will make my point.
For example, I have a friend who has a friend who constantly tells a self-serving and malicious story about an incident that took place over a decade ago. After hearing the story one too many times, my friend said, "you know, that's a great story! One that gets better, but not more accurate, with every telling." Point made.
I know another woman who became sick up to here and beyond with a colleague going on and on about an award -- and I mean on and on beyond simply being proud and amazed and toward being obnoxious, self-aggrandizing, and insulting to other people. After hearing the bragging one too many times, she turned to one of their companions and said, "you know, I heard that the person who receives the award is always everyone's third choice." Now, frankly, I'd LOVE to be everyone's third choice and win a prize; but that wasn't the way this guy saw it, nor the way the statement was intended. The statement was intended to tell the guy to shut the fuck up. You know what? It worked.
That second example is a little mean -- and there were other reasons to be mean in that case because the award thing was just part of a whole obnoxious package. I rather prefer the joviality of the first. I need something like that. Something that says, "I don't hate you, I just wish you would not keep telling this insulting story over and over in the most improper company. It is, in fact, making you look like the bigger fool." Only not so obviously, and with much more wit.
You see, I really need a rapier wit. Barring that, I will take any suggestions on snappy comebacks!
Eventually, I can make this all a funny story; and that's when I can banish the dumbassery.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: This post was inspired by comments on my last post, and also by the discussions about "Bad Habits" and "Anger" at Belle's Scattered and Random. Hang in there, Belle, you have lots of company right there with you!
Monday, July 26, 2010
In that last post, I was "you" in 2 of the scenarios. Obviously, I was the "you" in the one about the jerk on the panel ignoring "you" as she asked the question (and, seriously, the outrage will wear off shortly and I will one day be able to take the story to its true comic heights). I was also the "you" in the on about the mentor who was underwhelmed at the news of a book contract.
I confess that the panel scenario just pissed me off, but didn't surprise me. Had he behaved in any other way than that, then I would have been surprised, so I probably asked for it. I wonder, too, if I misread or misunderstood how I was supposed to act as an audience member in general, and if should have framed my suggestions as a question, thereby acknowledged his authority over the subject of his (truly pedestrian) paper while also making my contribution. Simply sitting back and taking notes would have been the wiser choice. Not attending in the first place also would have been smart since, I could not have contained myself in wanting to participate in the discussion and since, no matter what, he would have found some way to act the fool as he was always wont to do. Still, I was trying to make nice, and he behaved badly and in such a way as to attempt to make me look as if I knew nothing about the subject when he (and a number of other people in the room) know full well that I do, and that pissed me off, even as I did walk into it.
The other scenario, the one about the mentor failing to congratulate his former mentee on her book contract, well, that one hurt like hell.
I honestly thought the person in question would have been happy for me and proud of me, or -- at the very least -- able to feign something akin to those emotions. Like Susan said in the comments to the last post, "The point about manners is they are not about how you feel!" Besides, this person was my mentor -- as much as I would allow anyone to be a mentor after his predecessor abused the relationship to the point of a formal grievance -- our names are linked. If I can achieve something good, then he gets a little bit of the glory; and if I can achieve it without pestering him for anything, all the better for him.
Of course, it didn't end there.
After the whole failure to congratulate incident, we were part of a group that went to dinner. At that dinner, he was sitting near me, a graduate student, and an accomplished female professor who isn't that much older than myself. He then launched into a description of my career in which he said explicitly that I could have had a good job, that I had thrown it all away to pursue a related career path, and characterized that latest career path as frivolous and pointless.
Two nights later, he did the same thing. We were both at a party and engaged in one of those types of party conversations that organically shifts members and subjects, and everything was very lovely. As some point, he decided yet again to tell the story of my winding career path, this time to two female graduate students with whom I had been speaking and a big prize-winning historian who had joined us. This time, he described my job history as looking like it belongs to "one of those flighty women who can't decide what to do with her life."
Well, that's one way to put it (and I can't even begin to address the gender slam). Another is that I picked up publications, degrees, and a wealth of skills and knowledge that allow me to bring something interesting to the table.
Still another is that I did need to make a living and that the fantastic job that he alluded to did not exist. (Seriously, the way that he told the story, you would have thought that I was offered a job and rejected it to do something else. The reality was that there were no jobs, much less interviews or offers. Do professors of a certain age just not get that the market is not what it was in 1970?)
Yet another is that this is MY life. I thought at the time -- both when I was taking a tour of the road less traveled and in the middle of the conversation -- of John Lennon. Fuck what other people want from you and what they think you owe them, you have to occupy your own existence; and I think that I've turned out pretty well, matured, and -- to quote the Beatles yet again -- "it's getting better all the time." Like Lennon, I came back from a journey that was necessary, and am much better for it.
Anyway, I'm still trying to work out what's going on here, mostly so I can go "ahhh! I get it. Now I can move on." His tone was jovial, as usual; and the conversation could have been read as one of those instances when one of your group of friends or your brother brings home a date and you and the rest of the group or family tell the date all of the crazy shit that your friend or brother did in the old days, all with a great amount of affection.
Except, I had just given him an incredibly good piece of news that he barely acknowledged and that he never once mentioned again. Why tell three graduate students and two historians about my varied career choices, making me look like a total fuck-up, when he could have said, "she has this great coup and she used to be MY student"? Why was he cutting me down when he could have been building me up to his own benefit? I mean -- hell! -- I don't even talk about that period of time in the way that he did, and I'm the one suffering the financial consequences.
Then, I realized something: He really has a lot of resentment here. I'm still learning to trust my own judgements, so I wonder if I'm being too defensive or too sensitive. I am also afraid that I am dead right -- which, in learning to trust myself, I find that I often am, even when I don't want to be.
You see, he did essentially save my life at one point, and nearly did at another except that there were other variables involved that neither of us could have controlled. I can see where he would think that I was an overall disappointment from probably the second day that I was his student. I can see why he might expect that I owed him something in some way and that I did not make good on the debt. So, I have a vague idea of the reasons for a long standing resentment. I also suspect that he might not think that I can pull this book thing off, and that he might think it is a good idea but that I (for whatever reason) am not the person to do it. I wonder, too, if he might have wanted me to ask for his help to get the thing published, and -- well -- a whole lot of other things for which -- if I knew for certain or fully understood -- I would be very apologetic. Still, whatever the specific reasons, I am utterly clueless; but I can see that he has this level of hostility that he is usually good at concealing, but that still seeps out in not the most ideal situations.
Unless, I'm totally misreading some signal or another in my well-learned paranoia.
Even then, have you ever had a moment in which you can see how other people -- people close to you -- see you and what they want for or from you? I've had a lot of those moments in the past few years, and they are enlightening. What you find from that vantage is either not flattering, based on the person whom I was 10-15 years ago, or just plain wrong. Very often, I lose a tiny bit of respect for that person because of this way that they see me. Not that I dislike them, or even resent them for it (ok, not much), I just know what I am dealing with in them and what they think they are dealing with in me. At one time, I let their version of me shape my reality -- hell, I let it be my reality because I had so little sense of myself. Now, I don't. Now, I know that their version is not my reality, nor is it me.
But, it still hurts; and the closer or more important a role that the other person had in your life, the more it hurts. If I am reading this correctly, then the person who had been one of the few -- if not the only -- positive mentors in my life really has little respect for me. I can take it on the chin, I can disagree, but that doesn't stop me from feeling it.
Understand, I write all of this here partly to complain about it, partly to try to understand it, but also partly to recognize the hurt, even if I do deserve some of it. Because, you see, I know that I have a diverse set of skills, I know that I have good ideas that are getting better, I know that I have good fortune, and I know people who think that is wonderful. In other words, nothing he said or did has any impact upon my reality or on who I am; and what I do -- symbolized right now as this book -- will speak better for me than any stupid stories about my perceived failures. As I told someone else when asked what this book will do for me, it will make all of that back story, all of those strikes against me, not matter so much anymore.
Except, really, the book won't do it. The will to create that makes me write the book -- MY will -- makes it not matter anymore.
Eventually, the hurt does fade, doesn't it?
NOTE: At the risk of sounding egotistical, although I have been linked to Inside Higher Ed's "Around the Web" feature before, but I have a request for the person who searches for those links. While I am normally grateful for the traffic from previous links, I'd rather that this post remain un-linked if it becomes a candidate. It has too much that I would prefer to keep limited to my regular readers and not willfully offered up to potentially mean-spirited (I mean, read the comments there!) audience. Thank you!
Sunday, July 25, 2010
What I am thinking is a workshop that addresses much more egregious breaches of polite behavior by people who really should know better. Furthermore, those people who should know better should receive personal and engraved invitations to these workshops because -- damn! -- what the hell is wrong with them?
I will give you a few examples. These are all real events. I have not used names or many identifying features in order to protect the guilty -- who need no protection -- as well as the innocent -- who do. These stories do not all involve the same people, although the "you" in two are the same person, the rude person in two others are the same person, and the "you" in one example is the rude person in another. All of the rude people are men over the age of 55, and all but one are white. The gender and age of "you" varies, but they are all white (god knows how much worse these stories would have been had race been a variable). The academic class of the rude people is uniformly that of tenured, full professors. The "yous" are of all academic classes down to graduate student.
1) Let's say that you had written a glowing book review that was published in a reputable journal. Let's say that you subsequently ran into the author of the book. The proper thing for the book author to say to you would be, "thank you so much for your kind review." The improper thing for the author to say would be, "you did it wrong," and then proceed with a description of the review that s/he would prefer you to have written.
2) Let's say you are someone who became a parent later in life, and that this was a wonderful, exciting thing for you. Let's say that you show your baby pictures -- and your baby is gorgeous -- to a colleague. The proper thing for that colleague to do would be to say, "what a lovely baby, you must be so happy! Congratulations!" The improper thing for that colleague to do would be to embark upon a line of questioning about the parentage of the child that manages to be stunningly ageist, racist, and provincial.
3) Let's say that you have just received a book contract (based upon a proposal) with a pretty impressive press, in their trade division, with a (modest) advance. You see a former mentor and tell them this wonderful news. The proper response from the mentor should be, "what amazing news! You will do a great job, it's a great topic! Congratulations!" The improper response from the mentor would be to purse his lips, look out over your head, harrumph, and change the subject.
4) Let's say that you go to a session at a conference. The session is on a subject about which you know quite a bit and, in fact, on which you are writing a book. Granted, one of the panelists and you have a very unpleasant professional history, but that was at least 6 years ago, and you'd rather like to put it behind you and at least be able to nod at one another when you cannot entirely avoid one another. That panelist delivers an amazingly pedestrian paper on a more specific aspect of the subject that is connected to a broader historical phenomenon; and you have actually thought a lot about that phenomemnon since the popular conception of it is based on a lot of mythology that goes back a century and the academic scholarship has not fully reconceptualized it. So, you offer a couple of suggestions of ways for the panelist to think about that phenomenon that might allow him to inject some new and original ideas into his work by reframing a section of his paper and that will put him squarely into the reconceptualization conversation.* In other words, you see a way to help him make his paper much better and perhaps more important, so you offer your insight.
The proper way for the panelist to respond is to at least pretend that he is aware that words are coming out of your mouth as you make the comments, to thank you for your contributions, and to engage with the actual ideas that you offered.
The improper way for the panelist to respond is to not even look in your direction or acknowledge that he is being addressed while you make your comments, to become shockingly hostile and defensive for someone who is supposedly a senior scholar, to not even look at you when he responds to your comment, to act as if you said the EXACT OPPOSITE of what you said and, when you correct him, continues to act as if you said the EXACT OPPOSITE of what you said even when you have to correct him again,** (in other words, to completely avoid engaging with the ideas that you offered) then to some snide, unconcealed little comment to the person sitting next to him, as if he shouldn't have been forced to interact with someone as heinous as you, as the chair calls on the next person.
5) Let's say that you are a young woman. Let's say that you are minding your own business walking up some stairs. Let's say that you pass a senior scholar coming down the stairs. The proper way for the senior scholar to behave does NOT involve trying to look down the young woman's shirt.
6) Let's say that you are on a panel and that you are of an age not usually associated with childbearing. Let's say that you and your spouse are quite happily expecting a child. The proper thing for the chair of the panel to do when introducing you is to mention your accomplishments and your paper title. The improper thing for the chair to do is to note your advancing age, note that you and your spouse are expecting a child, and then make a nasty comment about you being perhaps too old to be doing so.
To be fair, so many other people around these examples were generous, smart, kind, supportive, congratulatory, and just plain decent that these egregious acts of rudeness stood out in stark contrast -- and they came in all genders, races, ages, and academic classes.
Still, these rude people are grown-ups, established scholars, who have the sort of privilege, success, and security that allows them to be magnanimous -- or, at the very least, polite -- to other people. There were plenty of examples around them. Saying "cute kids!" or "great news!" or "interesting points" or "thank you" or simply just not looking down shirts and insulting people's age, doesn't cost them any sort of capital. Not doing so makes these d00ds look like raving assholes. So, why on earth must they be jerks?
I mean -- damn! -- what is wrong with people?
*Incidentally, you are painfully aware of your unpleasant professional history with the panelist, so you are very careful to be complimentary and stress that you are trying to point out something that might help the panelist write something really good, and on your guard not to say anything that might be construed as bitchy -- you even ask another panelist afterward if you were being bitchy and learn that you were not.
**Seriously, you say something to the effect of, "I'm not saying that X is lying about the subject, I'm just saying that -- as another panelist has pointed out -- we should look at the context of what he says about the subject and how X is contributing to the national conversation about the events of the day that included that subject."
Then the panelist says, "well X isn't lying about the subject, the evidence proves that he isn't."
So you respond, "No, I'm not saying that X is lying. I am saying that he is speaking to this group of people, in this period of time, in which these types of people are saying these types of things about these events that happened 25 years earlier. So, approaching the way that X describes those events and knowing the evidence about those events, you might want to consider the ways that he is contributing to that discussion."
Then, the panelist says, "The evidence shows that X isn't lying. And X would never agree with those people."
You say, "I'm not saying that X is lying -- he is telling the truth and the evidence shows that he is telling the truth -- and of course he doesn't agree with those people, but to examine how he uses their language to make the opposite point might be an interesting and important way to go."
So the panelist says, "X isn't lying. He didn't agree with those people."
You then wonder if your lady voice is too high for his manly auditory abilities, and note that this was not the first time that you had observed a similar interaction in which a d00d totally ignores what a woman is saying in order to prove that he has the authority on the subject. You also wonder if the panelist REALLY doesn't understand anything beyond "X happened, then Y happened, then Z happened, and that means this very pedestrian point of fact that is on every historical marker between Baltimore and Toronto."
Then you bitch about it the whole two hours home until you can dump it on your blog.
Note that she switches her poison when she goes from day to night, but she always has pretty shiny things as part of her wardrobe.
Note also that this is the curvy version of Clio, since the non-curvy version was too non-curvy to be Clio. Plus, bullet boobs!
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Most recent news story on her fate.
Incidentally, she was 69 years and 364 days older than me (if I did my math right -- which I probably didn't, but I'm trying to call attention to myself).
Also, incidentally, a new FAA policy on antidepressants means that I might be able to get a pilot's license, after all. Should flying lessons come to pass, the FAA has much more to worry about with my math skills than with my happy pills.
Meanwhile, that all must wait since I have a book to write. One big thing at a time, you know!
Thursday, July 22, 2010
How this happened, I have no idea, but I ended up on a hill in the middle of western New York watching this:
Or, better yet, this:
That's Ringo Starr and his All-Star Band!
By "all-star" they mean that guy who did "Frankenstein," that guy who did "Rock-n-Roll Hootchie-coo," that guy who did "Dreamweaver," the lead singer of the Romantics, and the lead singer of Mr. Mister. So, yeah, it was a rather broad definition of "star." Still, it wasn't as bad as you'd think, especially for the price and the amount of alcohol that you got for $10 (not that I was paying for any of it, but I am aware of these things because I don't like to be a leech -- or at least not an expensive leech).
You had to drink a lot because, for a show with lots of dudes from the '70s, there was a sad lack of hippies BYOJ, if you know what I mean. Years ago, I went to a concert of Paul Simon and Bob Dylan and, between the neuvo-hippies and the aged hippies, all you had to do was inhale and you were feeling groovy. Here, well, this is what the audience looked like:
Lots of people from the '70s with their grandkids. Isn't it usually a babe on her boyfriend's shoulders at outdoor concerts? Here, it was a literal babe on her grandma's shoulders.
This was the only grass in the area:Nonetheless, with a few glasses of wine, after the sun went down, we were all groovin' and having a good time. Then, we drove home singing along with Abbey Road on the CD player. It was an evening well spent.
Monday, July 19, 2010
That is the Georgia Historical Society. We didn't spend much time there beyond the first day because it has to be open for, you know, research and stuff on the other days of the week. Still, beginning in a nice, old, historical building with woodwork, and books on a balcony, was a good way to start.
I was a bit anxious as to how long the walk between the hotel and the historical society would take, so I started out early following, of course, a tasty breakfast of cheesy, buttery grits. Mmmmm....grits! Sadly, they don't serve shrimp on them in the morning, but they were fine just the same. I had grits nearly every morning, and boiled peanuts for dinner twice.
In fact, to digress upon the food, grits and boiled peanuts are two things that I ate regularly when I was a little girl in New Orleans. Now, I'm not big on restaurants nor am I a foodie, hence I was eating boiled peanuts for supper and free grits for breakfast. Most everyone else in our group, however, saw eating as a major component of their visit and went to eat a places like Paula Deen's ("overrated" was the general consensus) of Mrs. Wilkes' Boarding House (it received the rating of: "Oh. My. Gawd! It'll make you jump up and slap your mama!") for lunch and dinner. As much as everyone enjoyed their meals, one woman said, "I felt like I should buy a cookbook, but everything they kept bringing was fixed just like my grandmama fixes it. This is how WE cook." They enjoyed it because it was how their grandmamas or mamas cooked, and the cooking cut across color lines. We all came from the same place in culinary terms.
In any case, on Day 1, after the grits, I headed out into the steam, fogged glasses and all. Turns out the historical society wasn't quite as far as I thought, even after taking a wrong turn or two. To kill time, I went into Forsythe Park to review the readings for the day. This is Forsythe Park:
Except, I took this picture the following Saturday afternoon. On Monday morning, the place was deserted. So, I sat down and pulled out my books.
Savannah has a homeless population who leaves the shelters in the morning and hang out in the parks all day. While I sat there, one guy approached me. He didn't beg or ask for money (although it became clear that he wanted a donation as the hour progressed). He introduced himself and began to tell me his story.
"I am Ed Barnes, the Fountain Poet," he said. "I'm on a mission to save these young folks from making the wrong journey." He had been molested by his step-father as a child, and ended up homeless by 16. Then he had a revelation from God that he needed to have faith, and use his gift of writing, and keep other young men from falling off their paths. So, he had taken to writing and self-publishing his poetry in an ever-evolving volume called The Ghetto Child. "I tell God that I will work until I get $20 dollars each day," he told me. "Five dollars goes to me and the rest goes to the book. I just want to get my message out."
Yeah, I know, the money. I seriously would have given him the whole $20 just for sitting there and telling me his story and entertaining me for nearly an hour and giving me blog material. On top of that, I found him rather fascinating because he was a bit like an itinerant minister, and his poetry (good or not) reflected a deep need to communicate and create and even to be loved for himself. Then, as he told me this story, the other homeless people wandered through the park and I got this glimpse of a life that is entirely alien to me. Of course, I didn't have a dime in cash on me, so I told him that I had a blog and that I would write about him to help him get that word out. Here is his picture:
Then, I had to be on my way.
We opened our meeting with introductions. Later conversations with the Lead Historian, who was in charge of of the workshop, revealed that most people were a bit surprised that the Georgia Historical Society employed such young, hip, together people. As Elmo -- God love Elmo! -- put it, he expected the Lead Historian to be an old gray-haired man in a seer sucker suit, one of his assistants to look like Winston Churchill, and the other to look like Marian the Librarian. That was most decidedly not the case (and not a few of us -- attached or not -- had the hots for the Lead Historian, including Elmo). On top of that, they had their shit together. They anticipated everything, and when things were about to go wrong, they solved them right then and there, even when we were on the Sea Islands, without questionable cell reception.
Our first speaker was Alexander X. Byrd, who showed us how to give a lesson on the trans-Atlantic slave trade. For me, the content of his talk was not new, particularly after the seminars that I had attended last year. I found his method of teaching masterful, and will entirely rip it off to convey more efficiently and effectively the Atlantic scope of slavery, European perspectives of African regions and ethincities, and the ways that African traders manipulated Europeans there on the coast. In our discussion, he made us "bracket" our understanding of racism in the trade, and to "assume good will" of the parties involved in order to have us understand the motives of the people involved. This was very difficult, let me tell you!
Our group included many non-historians, however. One woman described his lesson as "paradigm-shifting," and another became unsettled and insisted that he was letting the white people off of the hook. Byrd responded that we can talk about power within particular transactions and in particular places, but we must also consider the context of the larger, imperial transaction. By lunch time, we all agreed that he had given us an amazing presentation not just on the trade, but also on how to help students have a more nuanced understanding of what exactly happened and why.
After lunch, our speaker was Erskine Clark, who spoke on his book The Dwelling Place. He spoke in particular about the interactions and widely varied perspectives of life on the James Colcock Jones rice plantations, and also how that "assumed good will" can go horribly awry in the face of self-interest. He said something in response to one of our cohort, which affected me as if he had hit me in the gut and which I had to ponder all week -- and even still do. The woman asking the question is a pastor in her church. Clark is a professor of religious history and a devout man himself. Jones was a devout slave owning minister. "How do you feel about him?" she asked Clark. "How can you, as a Christian, sympathize with him?"
Clark paused. "This is the white south," he said. "I love it. It is me. It is where I came from and what I am, so I can't help but love it. But, I abhor what it has done."
This was a powerful and disturbing statement for me. Clark has made some peace with his history, found some space between where he has come from and that "burden of southern history," the knowledge of its wrongness. I understand this tension. The tension runs through my family life, and it runs through my understanding of myself as a white, southern woman. I cannot, however, reconcile that abhorrence with love. I abhor what the white south -- where I come from, what I am -- and I hate it. So, I hate myself and what my white skin stands for; but I cannot escape it, and it is why I am drawn to this part of American history. To try to escape it, in fact, I would consider an act of sheer cowardice.
That was what I thought, sitting there in the Georgia Historical Society. That thought became the bass line of my week, and is, in fact, a bass line in my teaching and my research. My students look at me on the first day of class and think, "what is this white lady doing teaching me about black history?" I often wonder myself. For the rest of the week, that thought became one with the humidity, an inescapable presence against my skin.
...graffitti on a plant in a graveyard...:
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Incidentally, on my flight back, no one asked me to take my liquids out of my suitcase, and no one gave me shit for using a larger bag. Only in my departure airport has this happened.
But, I digress. Back to Day .5 in which I wandered around an remembered just how hot the coastal south can get. Rather, I remembered just how humid the coastal south can get. By the end of the week, I was sort of liking it, mostly because I didn't have to look pretty for any reason and because everyone else with me looked just as melted as I and because I knew there was a nice hot shower in a nice cold hotel room at the end of the day. Also, between the steam and the water to keep from dehydrating, my skin looked amazing, so healthy and pink and clean.
Again, I digress.
I wandered around and around, just taking a look at everything and being reminded of that particular moldy Gothic atmosphere of cities in swamps. Savannah lacks the bright polish of Charleston, which feels more like a city connected with the ocean and has the bright colors that you see further down in Florida. Savannah, instead, resembles the genteel decay of New Orleans or perhaps Baton Rouge, particularly their Garden Districts, with moss dripping from cathedral arches of live oak and every shaded surface covered in a black and green patina of mold. Shade almost works, and every now and then a breeze does. This all speaks to something primeval in the recesses of my memory. This I know. This, bad and good, calls out my accent.
I was about to go off on something more philosophical, but I want to save that, to mush it together with some other thoughts that I spoke on our last day, when we discussed the impact of this workshop. I want to polish that because this place, this experience, helped me begin to articulate something that --- well, I'll go there later
Meanwhile, back in the mossy swamp city. Most people know Savannah for the book and movie, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. In fact, in Savannah, many local people whom I encountered simply refer to it as "The Book." There is actually a gift shop of "The Book." Sadly, it did not have any really good kitsch items to share with you. I will tell you, every gift shop that catered to tourists had this in it:
That's a replica of the statue from the cover of the book. You can get her in two sizes: enormous and pin. Or you can get a post card, a framed photo, an etching, or whatever medium you damn well please. You just can't go out to the cemetery to find her because too many people trampled the ground and she had to be moved. I read the book when it first came out, so it's been years, but if memory serves, this statue had no role whatsoever in the story.
If you want, you can also tour the Mercer House:
I didn't, but Elmo and Molly, two of my cohort did.* See the left side window on the second floor? Elmo's tour guide said, "that's where the unfortunate incident occurred. Please step across the hall." Molly's tour guide said, "that's where Mr. John Williams defended his life by allegedly shooting Danny Hansford. Now will ya'll please step across the hall." Elmo described it this way, "that's where that rich bitch shot his little boy toy, ya'll."
I didn't tour the Mercer House because it really didn't interest me. I'm finding that house museums are starting to bore the hell out of me. I can only get into the china and the wallpaper for so long after my first yawn, even when I find the place lovely. Nonetheless, I did tour one.
If you were a Girl Scout, you know that the founder of the Girl Scouts, Juliette Gordon Low, was born and raised in Savannah. The last time that I was in Savannah, which was for just a couple of hours on a weekend during a research trip in Charleston, I couldn't do a damn thing because there was some big Girl Scout event that weekend and the place was crawling with 10 year olds in green sashes who had booked every tour bus and carriage in the city.
I had not planned to visit this house museum, but I must confess that I was a Girl Scout. In fact, when I was a 10 year old in a green sash myself, I wrote a little one act play, starring my friends Laurie and Holly, that was about the founding of the Girl Scouts. This was the play's synopsis: Juliette Gordon Low wakes up one morning to find that the Boy Scouts have been formed. She becomes furious that girls have been excluded, so she says, "well I'm going to form the Girls Scouts." Then, everyone danced to the BeeGees. (Hush! It was 1977.)
I wasn't a good Girl Scout. Or a good playwright.
Anyway, I felt that I should visit her house in homage to my 10 year old in a green sash self. Also, the museum had air conditioning:
Her story is a little more interesting than just that. Turns out that she was a skilled artist in about any medium that took her fancy, including blacksmithing:
She was also nearly deaf, with only 30% of her hearing. There's a story there to be told -- one that doesn't involve the BeeGees, but does involve girl culture in the 20th century. Sadly, the only biography of her in the gift shop was one written by her niece sometime before I was born.
The bookstore in the gift shop, however, did have this little tidbit. Notice the top shelf there. Notice the Lincoln biographies. Notice that the other titles on that shelf. Now, notice the children's book on the bottom shelf:
Curse of the Campfire Weenie. It's a sausage party on the bookshelf!
The number of Lincoln books featured with face out, especially the one on Lincoln and Douglass (making that now three books pairing the two), surprised me a little in a southern city, although Savannah's relationship to Civil War and memory is not quite so in-your-face as in Charleston.
This also surprised me:
That's a tavern on Lincoln street. "How'd that happen?" I wondered. Then I saw what was next door:
That's the F.B.I. It all makes sense now.
Continuing on my path, I came across this wedding chapel:
Notice that paper taped in the window there. This is what it says:
"Anytime. Can be here within one hour." I'm going to guess that they don't offer sobriety tests nor object to shotguns on the premises.
If you've read this blog for any length of time, I'm sure you know what my first love is:
Yes, CANDY! Two rooms and a manufacturing station:
The guy with his back to us gave out samples.
"It's pecans, butter, sugar, and cream," he told me.
"Darlin'," I said (blame Elmo), "I KNOW what a praline is!" Hell, I can MAKE pralines, and anyone who knows me knows that I'm an incompetent in the kitchen, at best. That is, unless sugar is involved.
Would you believe that next door they had a shop dedicated to my second love? Yes, the fermented grape! In fact, I will confess that I sort of abandoned my first love on this trip and spent quite a bit of time with my second love. Fortunately, the three of us are in a polyamorous triad and no one gets the least bit jealous.
*Not their real names, of course, but let me assure you that Elmo's real name is in the same vein and it kills me not to use it here. Elmo is singularly responsible for re-introducing into my vocabulary the various shades of meaning to the adjective "special" and the term "fell out." If you have met me and meet me again and notice I sound distinctly more southern, that's Elmo's influence.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
For the next week I'm in a southern coastal city for an NEH workshop on African American life in the Sea Islands. I got here a day early because the last time that I went to an NEH workshop, I had very very bad airline karma. In fact, I wouldn't even call it "karma," I'd just call it a slightly worse than typical day for the airlines. That time, I ended up having to rent a car and drive 12 hours overnight in order to arrive on time -- and I still missed the check-in and welcome reception, and was exhausted for the duration of the workshop.
This time, things seem to be going well, even with connecting flights. In fact, the worst thing that has happened so far was that I had to have my luggage opened and searched at the airport, which has become routine for me at that airport.
The airport in question, being quite small, seems to have a lot of time on their hands at security. Never at one of the major airports have they required that everyone take their liquids baggie out of their suit case. They do here. Then, after how many years of having to use the damn baggie, they took time out of their schedule to inform me that the bag I was using was too big and that I need to use the smaller, sandwich sized bag. Since when?
You see, I need lots of liquids. I've got shampoo and conditioner and hairspray and peroxide and mouthwash and make-up and lotion and moisturizer and, well, after a certain age the youthful good looks require significant backup! I need the half-gallon size baggie, not the PBJ on diet bread sized baggie.
Anyway, the security woman was kind enough not to make me transfer all of my stuff into the smaller baggie, which she seemed about to do until she saw the line backing up. Thank you large family with lots of baby crap! Still, they decided they had to unpack my suitcase anyway. "Every fucking time," I said to no one in particular.
I got them back, though. A guy had to do the searching and I had feminine hygiene products -- extra absorbent -- in my suitcase. The second he saw "Kotex," the search ended. Yep, they have some hardened law enforcement officers working for Homeland Security.
My flight, of course, was late; (every fucking time) but the connection was late too. The storm system along the east coast kept all delays coordinated, as long as the flights were going roughly north and south. So, I arrived without any great event only two hours later than originally planned. Heck, I even ended up sitting next to an ex-cop from the area who is also a member of the state historical society that is sponsoring this workshop. He and his wife saved me $35 in cab fare by giving me a lift to the hotel, along with some tips for good restaurants in walking distance.
The hotel, however, was the crowning glory of the day -- perhaps of the week. First of all, when I opened the door to the room, my face was greeted with the sweet sweet kiss of artificially cooled air. Nor was the air tainted with the reek of mold. No, I breathed the lovely offgassing of brand new textiles and paint. That means that I can pretty much count on cleanliness. The place isn't old enough to have accumulated too many mutant microorganism.
So, cleanliness and climate control: two of my requirements already met!
Next, as you can see, I have an internet connection. In fact, they have an ethernet cord, just in case the wifi doesn't work. That, I must say, is above and beyond the call of duty. They also have HBO, which, as I wrote before, reminds me why that's not so much a requirement anymore (at least not now that the season of Treme is over); but it is on a huge flatscreen.
As for breakfast, not only do they have bagels and coffee, but they have promised stuff like eggs and bacon. We shall see how that stacks up tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, I kinda don't need the complimentary breakfast that much because this room has taken the microfridge to a new level. It has a whole kitchen. I mean a full-sized refrigerator, a dishwasher, a microwave, a coffee maker, a toaster, silverware, plates, and just about anything else you might need. Heck, it even has an automatic ice maker in the freezer. My own damn refrigerator at home doesn't have that. In fact, I think the only thing that this kitchen doesn't have is a blender, so no pina coladas.
Then, we have the bathroom. Now THAT'S a bathroom! You could fit three of my own bathrooms into this one. Plus, the full length mirrors are skinny mirrors. Who doesn't like that?
What I have here, then, is a room worth every penny charged (and it is a few more than 500 pennies, even with the workshop rate).
I forgot the damn cord that lets me put pictures from my phone onto my computer. Otherwise, I'd show you the pictures that I took of it. Rest assured, no non-me hair is twisted into the fibers of the linens.
Well done, historical society people in charge of reserving this hotel. Well done!
Friday, July 09, 2010
Actually, of the quality I tend toward, I think the proper term is "motel." You see, unless it is on someone else's dime or the extraneous transportation and parking makes the conference hotel more cost-effective, I tend to stay in hotels that, by default, rank in the lower end of the star ratings. These are the chains that you can find at most interstate exists, usually plopped in the middle of fast food chains and gas stations, sometimes near a Wal-Mart. They advertise in coupon books at rest stops and service stations. They tend to be around $50/night.
I confess that do have my limits. At one time, I used to think that the non-chains that you can usually find on the old national highways had a certain charm. In fact, one of my favorites was the Consitution Inn (I think that was it's name) in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where I stayed on a research trip in the late 1990s. It was $20/night. These days, those are fewer and fewer in number, mostly bought out by some lower grade chain, and are likely to sell birth control in the vending machines. They will do, if they have certain amenities, but they aren't my first choice.
Over time, I have grown to have certain expectations from a motel, even if I'm only there as an alternative to a catnap in a rest stop. First, I expect them to be clean. I know, given the nature of the lodgings, that this is impossible. In fact, I've become a bit of a Howard Hughes these days, walking into a room and imagining a million strains of mutant bacteria and viruses (virii?) bopping around the carpet and having orgies on the bed. I try not to think of the mold spores exploding out of the air system, or building condos in the grout. I can deny these images to some degree, but the motel has to work with me. They have to keep up the appearance of cleanliness, even if the reality might have me shuffling around with Kleenex boxes on my feet.
A morning "breakfast" is also a good addition. I started expecting this after my very first research trip when I stayed in the lovely (and, at the time, newly remodeled) Knight's Inn in North Charleston. They kept a very good appearance of clean, and had complementary bagels and coffee, all for $25/night. So, I now expect bagels and coffee.
HBO is good, too, or at least cable; but HBO was always my expectation. That's how I got into Sex and the City and The Sopranos. You can't always get good cable these days, even in the better hotels, and this isn't as much of an expectation as a hope.
Wi-fi has replaced HBO. I expect wi-fi or some sort of internet connection; and by "connection" I mean "anywhere in the hotel," not "only in rooms closest to the desk." If you essentially have to hijack the manager's connection, then it isn't "free wi-fi." Nor is it "fee wi-fi" if you have to hijack the connection from the neighboring motel. A certain hotel along a highway in Hadley, Massachusetts, knows what I'm talking about here.
If I'm staying for more than one night, I have found that I prefer a microfridge -- you know, the microwave and refrigerator combination common in dorm rooms these days. If a room has one of those, I feel like I'm at a really nice place. In fact, if I'm paying close to or more than $100/night, and the place doesn't have a microfridge, then I'm getting ripped off.
Still, my basic expectations are: cleanliness, internet connection, and cable, with a preference for HBO and a microfridge. You can generally get these things, too, at most chains, especially if you have five or six chains all clustered at one intersection. Especially if four of those chains all seem to be in direct competition with one another.
These days, motels don't tend to advertise their room rates on their billboard. They advertise those other amenities, but not their rates. If they do, and you stay there, consider yourself in trouble.
On Wednesday night, I found the skankiest hotel in the city of research. I chose it because I had forgotten to pick up the coupon book at the service center, and they advertised their rates on the billboard. I knew that I was asking for it. Really, I did; but I figured, in competition with those five or six other chains, how bad could it be?
First, no breakfast. Not even coffee. O.k., I can live with that.
Second, no wifi. Not even hijackable wifi. They did have HBO, but I am now reminded as to the reason internet connection has replaced HBO.
Third, questionable cleanliness. I have to admit, I've stayed in dirtier hotels. Two, to be exact, off of I-81 in western Virginia. They were so dirty that I chose not to take a shower in them because I thought that the shower itself would make me nastier. I could take a shower in this one, at least. The ceiling, also, looked new -- which couldn't be said for a motel that I stayed in last week, leaving me slightly frightened that falling sheet rock would wake me in the morning. Still, there were cigarette burns on the chair, on the bed spread, and on the curtains -- in a non-smoking room. Gum was ground into the carpet, and the carpet itself resembled a petri dish as did the filter in the air conditioner. The grout could have used a good shot of bleach; but the final straw was the washcloths. I had dipped one in ice water to cool myself off. As I was lowering it onto my forehead, I noticed that hair was tangled into its fibers. Not my hair.
You know, when motivated, I have a pretty good pitching arm.
That wasn't the worst thing. I now have a new item for my list of motel expectations: a working air system. This week has been one of the hottest of the summer, so a.c. wasn't a luxury, it was a necessity.
When I checked into my room, I turned on the air then went out in search dinner. When I got back, the room was still sweltering. I went to the front desk with the problem. They gave me a new room, a non-smoking room next to the only smoking room in the building. I turned on the air in this new room and waited for the sweet kiss of freon-treated breeze.
Two hours later, I was still sweating and the air was now reeking of nicotine. I returned through a smoky haze to the front desk. All of the rooms in the motel had the same problem. On the hottest day of the year, all of the room in the motel did not have air conditioning. Nor did the windows open.
I really should have checked out right then and there. I don't know why I didn't, but I didn't. I stayed all night in a filthy hotel room, with no wifi and no a.c. because I did not want to pick a fight with the desk clerk over a refund and because I did not want to lose the $40 I had paid for the room.
Also, you get what you pay for.
I got up and out as soon as I could the next morning. When I told the guy at the front desk that the lack of air conditioning was a problem, he just gave me a blank look and said, "you are all checked out now."
I will not be staying at Red Carpet Inns in the future, I don't care if they were to offer $10/night, I will avoid them like the plague that probably lurks in their linens. I'm getting too old for cheap motels.
Thursday, July 08, 2010
My dad sent one of his right-wing propaganda e-mail forwards to my brothers and I. This one was about the ways that the "Founding Fathers" were all evangelical Christians and that this nation was founded on the principles of evangelical Christianity, blahblahblah, bullshit.
That annoyed me, and he is always sending these sorts of things and I am always asking him not to send them, but sometimes he still does. I find it distressing because it seems as if my rational, somewhat Deist father has become this raving lunatic. I mean, this is a man who did, in fact, teach me to quest for the truth through evidence and now he is espousing these cracked, Faux News, thoughtless party lines that make me wonder if he is just drifting toward dementia...except he isn't.
This doubly annoyed me because I have asked, demanded, pleaded, and publicly shamed him through "reply all" to stop sending me this stuff, pointing out that I don't send him left-wing information. That he continues to do so seems to me an act of disrespect.
This one, however, cut me somewhere deep that had very little to do with the actual attachment and everything to do with the personal message that he wrote to my brothers and I. He thinks that the country is in a religious war over an interpretation of God that will make this country less free and less just than it has been in his life. He was born in 1942. I'll let you do the freedom and justice math on that one. He also thinks that his failure to raise his children in a religion was his great failing as a parent, and that our troubles growing up would not have been so bad had we gone to church.
That last one pisses me off to no end as my difficulties with the sexism in my house are well-known and had nothing to do with God or any deity and everything to do with the fucked up ideas about women, and sexuality, and independent individuals, and specifically women as independent individuals with sexuality, which he perpetuated.
Anyway, I wasted half of the morning going on a rant in reply to him, a rant that I did not send. Or at least that I have not yet sent. I did show it to my aunt. She'll give him the gist. She also reminded me that my dad's message had more to do with a combination of his denial and his regrets than anything real having to do with me or my brothers. He's trying to get into heaven in his last years. There's something kind of sad about that.
To him, I instead wrote, "hahahahaha! What a funny joke, because you wouldn't actually send this in earnest to an actual historian, especially one who grew up in your household." Then, I sent a P.S. in which I told him that, if he wants to feel guilty about something, I could give him a list, but that lack of religion was not on it. In fact, lack of religion was one of the good things that he did for which he can feel proud.
Still, his message may not have had anything to do with me, but it still hurt me so much. It seems so silly, but it did. Then, I accidentally opened a saved message that I had received from my nasty brother a couple of years ago, but never read. In it, he told me that I was too high on a pedestal to see the real world. I think he meant "ivory tower," but you know he doesn't know that term. So, I spend the second half of the morning trying to put this monster, this primal feeling of alienation, back into its box.
Sometimes, you get a view of yourself through other people's eyes. You see what they see when they look at you. In graduate school, I realized that some of my guy friends really weren't my friends when they would say different things to me, or about me, that exposed their belief that I was not as smart as they were, that I would get a job to which they felt entitled just because I was a woman and therefore clearly not qualified. Or that they thought that I was pathetic because I couldn't date a good man and that, ultimately, I was a little bit of a slut because I, you know, had a disastrous sex life that might involve more than one man in a period of five years. That's not a nice thing to realize about the people whom you think are closest to you.
It's not an unfamiliar feeling over my life, but it never gets easier to know; and when it comes to my family, I have always felt this. This feeling gets worse rather than better. They think I'm essentially a child with no knowledge of the "real" world, and all of my ideals are sterile, coming out of a book (which, of course, can contain no wisdom) rather than any experience.
I'm realizing that the anger that I feel is actually, for now, healthy. The anger is the rebellion. The anger says, "wait a minute! That is not how I am, and your are wrong to think that way." I used to swallow the anger and think, "wait. Maybe they have a point. Maybe I really am that way." I find I have less and less energy for that, now. I think I'm accepting that anger. The next thing to do is to think "wrong, wrong, wrong," and the thing to do after that is -- well -- rise up and say "dumbass, be gone!" The think to do after that, even, is to just laugh at how ridiculous it all is. What a grand joke that you can spend nearly a quarter of a century with people who gave birth to you, who raised you, and who still get you all wrong because they don't even try to understand you.
In fact, that may be the bigger picture right there: understanding. No one in our house tried to understand anything about anyone else. They just judged. Understanding takes effort and concentration and questioning and listening. Now, at the end of his life, my dad may think he's looking for some understanding of us, his children, and his role as parent; but, really (to judge) I think he's just looking not to go to hell -- or to get out of his own hell, which is perhaps a guilt or a regret that he really can't look at.
I mean really! Religion? That's what he thinks was the big problem? Not the beating, not the yelling, not the disrespect, not the constant atmosphere of violence, but that we didn't go to church on Sundays?* That is, in fact, quite laughable.
Meanwhile, I can't be around them at all. I can't go straight to the laughing just yet. I still muck through the anger and the hurt. I was starting to get sentimental and thinking of maybe visiting. I can't. To visit means to cut myself into little fragments and prevent those fragments from integrating into a full person. Hell, that was my childhood: bunches of unintegrated fragments that formed my person. I sometimes think that maturity, and intelligence, and rationality all slipped through the cracks between the fragments. Honesty sure did. Perhaps that's my father's state right now. Perhaps it always was.
Right now, when I try to think about my family in any constructive way, I feel like my skin has turned hard. I'm all mushy inside of it, but my skin is turning into some sort of horned, metallic shell with them, they just seem to find a crack in it here and there and piss me off. Having a horned armor with them is probably wise for now, until I can automatically say, "dumbass, be gone!" or until I can reflexively laugh at it all. I don't need to waste mornings putting the monster of their ignorance back in a box.
I need to jettison the box over the nearest bridge.
*Incidentally, I think religion is a bit like alcohol in that a person is still who they are when they are religious, just like they are when they drink. The alcohol and the religion just amplifies their personality.