Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Once I took a road trip through the South. My favorite spot for viewing was the low mountains near Chattanooga, Tennessee, dark mountains where the clouds wind through them like roads. You may find yourself driving through cloud or just under it, like down covers resting over you with the light breaking through. I was there in the morning, the brilliant holiness of morning, with the Tennessee River looming. I floated down that river, gazed up, and lingered in the in-between places, lines on a map between Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee--secret places with no name, only slips on dark currents that have been there always.

the old neighborhood

When I was a little girl Texas was all around me. Limestone riverbeds plumped up the landscape. Chalk rock crumbled in my hand. Carlos Castaneda books, Mexican dresses, Santana music, toe sandals, nude hippies at watering holes, deep blue spring pools, and my house on top of a hill in the middle of a whole neighborhood full of where I came from, we never left. I grew up in The Four Seasons on Berrywood Drive. We missed being named a month of the year by one street. A slight that didn’t matter, we were a line right down the middle of the world, rolling down into a furious creek. The spring of ’82 brought a flood that killed rabbits in a cage that had been propped up on stilts behind a neighbor’s house. It swept the sound and fury along with it, maybe my fury that I never felt, or don’t remember feeling. The neighborhood was filled with kids and surrounded by fields, undeveloped on the outskirts of town, hidden from the interstate by large pecan and oak trees like shawls around us.

We used to follow the trails that wound through the outlying fields on our bikes, sometimes on foot, trails marked by a civilization before us, the 70s kids maybe. We lived the afternoons in forts along tributaries of Walnut Creek. Our next door neighbors, an elderly couple, got shot by Henry Lee Lucas at their liquor store along I-35 and Braker Lane. We used to break in to find their ghosts or killer, the reincarnation of their deaths, for years afterward, on into high school. By then we had lost reverence and were only looking for a cheap thrill heightened by lame pot or cheap beer. My older brother, Jeff, was my best friend then, since we were tots bundled in snowsuits in Grafton, North Dakota, a place my dad took us after graduate school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I was born. When I was six Jeff and I moved into that house on Berrywood Drive, at either end of a mottled brown hallway. When we arrived my parents explained to me that my bedroom had a lock on it. I was so young, and they didn’t want me locking us out. Even with that I accidentally locked it shut one day. My parents got mad. I remember holing up in Jeff’s room. He wasn’t mad.

Jeff told me to beat up Chuck, a boy one year older than me who lived caddy corner from us. I don’t know why he wanted me to hit him other than it would be funny. He believed in me, and I would do whatever he said. I don’t remember beating up Chuck, but I probably did. We made horror films with our friends using a Kodak video camera. We climbed fences and snuck out our bedroom windows at night. He stole a car, I stole clothes, he sold fake pot, I made out with boys in cemeteries all before we got to high school. We were arrested and banned from our friends, and decided rebelling wasn’t worth it because we didn’t hate people and we didn’t hate ourselves. We hated what was missing.

Thursday, January 01, 2009


I usually write a new year's post. Usually I feel a contagious sense of possibility from getting to start over. January 1 coming around again is like a do over. What will I do this year? What plans can I hatch? This year my mind is elsewhere. It's too early for a backlash, but it's found me.

It's been, what, half a year since gas prices got to $4 a gallon, since we realized we're in an interconnected heap of trouble like a figure eight of standing dominoes that have been tipped? Since then activism is back at the front of the line: collective responsibility. Its manifestations are take out cups made from corn, fair trade chocolate bars, and coupons that you can buy to erase your carbon footprint.

I like people. I am against poverty and pollution. I am heart sick about the polar bears. And simultaneously I feel annoyed by so much goodness. If I were a child, I would be pinching the goody two shoes and getting sent to the corner. As a professional adult female, I am currently suppressing urges to physically push people when they offend by, oh, let's say staying in the women's restroom longer than the standard slow pee and hair correction require.

I read a soothing article published on Slate.com recently about this very subject. I'm always soothed when made to feel perfectly normal for being my imperfect self. The article, entitled: "Well, Excuuuuuse Meee! Why humans are so quick to take offense" explains that "the evolutionary forces that have made us cooperative and empathetic are the same ones that have made us prickly and explosive." Writer Emily Yoffe goes on to reveal a Darwinist benefit of seemingly undesirable traits. She says: "gratitude allows us to expand our social network and recruit new allies; vengeance makes sure our new friends don't take advantage of us." We want to be treated fairly, and it is up to us to make sure this is so.

So, we pay close attention to social nuances, like "who's doing what to whom and what [it] means to [us]," says Yoffe. Why does the goody two shoes offend? Well, you've got to ask yourself more questions: Why is she such a goody two shoes anyway? Something's up. Does she want special favors? Down with goody two shoes! Keep her in line! I'm not sure that someone who buys carbon coupons to make up for a deluge of carbon emissions needs to be kept in line, but then again maybe he or she does.

Sometimes when there's so much jumping on the bandwagon I want to reject it for the simple reason that there's too much. There's something suspicious there, some subtle nuance I'm picking up on. It takes a lot of thinking to figure out what danger may be present, to sift it through. While I continue winnowing away I'll be a gruff little misanthrope, doing my duty.