Friday, March 28, 2008

REM Hibtone single

So, years and years ago, the REM Hibtone single came out. I bought up about four copies, just cause it was SO COOL that they put out a record. I had a friend in England who loved good music, so I sent one to him. I had a friend still in high school in Rome who used to dance with me to the B-52's, so I sent one to him. I had a little brother who loved cool stuff, so I gave one to him. The last copy I kept, but it eventually wandered off somehow. I always thought, "I'll get another one soon." I mean, they were selling them everywhere in Athens for like 99 cents, so I figured I'd just pick one up one day.

Days turned into years, REM went on to megastardom, and the single became a collector's item. I kicked myself in the butt for being so silly as to give all my copies away. But I knew one day the single would wander back into my life. It finally did a couple of nights ago when my ex-husband, who still has connections to all things music, walked into the living room and handed me something.

Oh yeah. My life's complete.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Alice Walker never ages

Alice Walker walks onto the stage at Glenn Memorial Church on Emory's campus. She seems not to have aged a day since the photo on the back cover of my old copy of The Color Purple, dated 1982. The crowd jumps, literally, to its feet, applauding wildly. Ms. Walker is overcome and bows, nodding, to the audience. The applause continues. She makes a gesture that she repeats throughout the evening, something I call the "butterfly". It looks something like this:

Her appearance at Emory officially marks the joy with which the university welcomes her decision last fall to give her manuscripts to Emory, but on a more human level, it is a chance for Walker to return to her home state and come face to face with the people who will most benefit from her archives. The personal quickly overcomes the professional in Walker's reading, as those of us in the audience feel that we have been invited into her living room for a casual conversation.

Dr. Rudolph Byrd, professor of American studies at Emory and member of the graduate division of the ILA, introduces Ms. Walker, and at the mention of her archives being housed at the university the audience is once again on its feet, cheering and whistling. Walker nods and gives us the butterfly.

She opens her talk with a description of her relationship to the state of Georgia. She says that though it was and is "home," she has mixed feelings about the place, having lived such hard years here. But then she tells of her arrival in Atlanta the previous day, of getting off the plane and into a car, and driving through the city streets. She says "I saw the trees in bloom - dogwood trees, plum trees, peach trees - and realized how much I love the landscape of my youth. I love the peach trees, so here I am today, dressed as a peach tree!" With a flourish, she steps away from the podium to show us the colors in her flowing dress. Sure enough, the dress itself is the color of peaches, and the long middle portion, the color of bark. The audience applauds. She butterflies.

Ms Walker moves next into a discussion of the idea of building a monument to oneself, and how it goes against the idea put forth by a writer character in her novel, By the Light of My Father's Smile. That character follows the aboriginal belief that we should leave the earth as we found it: she burns her own memoirs. Reminded of this by fans of her writing, Walker justifies leaving her papers as a mark of her own journey by saying that growing up during segregation, she didn't have any idea how to proceed with her own creative life: "What if Langston Hughes had left something for me that I could have would that have changed my life?"

She prepares to read from her first selection, and tells us that she hates to do it, as it forces her to "leave us" and turn her eyes to the page before her. She invites us to close our eyes "so you will still feel like I'm looking at you,"thereby continuing the intimate nature of the first portion of her talk. The selection she is reading is a prose poem (or is it a very short story?) called "My Mother's Blue Bowl." It's about love and kindness, about motherhood and finding beauty in everyday things. It's about loss and release. We're teary when she stops. "How was that for you?" she asks. It was incredible. (See below for the entire must read it.)

She then turns to The Color Purple, reading (as she has previously told us she would with all the selections, just because) the last page of the book. After reading, she mentions that she spent a year writing this book, and that during that time she was deeply in love with someone, and writing daily "in the presence of my ancestors." The book was thus a spiritual journey which left her exhausted, but also ready to move closer to the present. She strongly suggests that all writers (in fact, all people) keep a journal. She says that you'll find that your neuroses will stay the same, but that as you write, you'll chip away at them till one day, when you're faced with writing about them yet again you'll say to yourself "I just can't write about this anymore!" and guess what? You're cured!

After writing The Color Purple, she says she moved closer to herself in the present day. She tells us that she can't even read from "The Temple of My Familiar," her next book, because it's too personal. Instead she chooses the last page of Meridian, and discusses her involvement in the civil rights movement. She had to be organized and disciplined, to keep in focus and remain peaceful even when she was angry. She speaks of loving the "other" and keeping focused on the goal, not the fight.

She also moves past The Third Life of Grange Copeland, saying "It's too rough. Every time I try to read it I cry." Instead, she reads from In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens, a collection of essays. She speaks of being a writer with a young child, living on her own with a small daughter. Saying she refused the stereotypical attitude that you had to either be one or the other, she chose a middle ground: "It was okay, we were just gonna be."

"How are you doing?" she suddenly calls out to us. "We're good," we holler back to her. She then moves into her "Earthling poems" taken from Her Blue Body Everything We Know. The poem she reads is "We Have a Beautiful Mother." While I am not a big fan of earth love stuff, hers is, of course, beautiful.

After reading from Living by the Word, she discusses dreams. When we find ourselves descending into anger, sadness...any emotion, really...we can find a way out by paying attention to our dreams. She tells of a dream she had once, where an ancestor came to her, a woman who was missing a finger. She said she reached out for her hand, and felt the missing finger. The woman said to her, just before she awoke "Live by the word and keep on walking." She feels that the innate concept that what you praise and give energy to will thrive has been lost by humankind, and we need to rekindle that connection and realize our power over what happens in the world and in our lives.

Ms. Walker continues this line of thought through the end of the reading, choosing to discuss the destruction to the planet and her steadfast opposition to the current war and all wars. She says that we must look into ourselves to see what we want, then connect with the fierceness in us to make it reality. "Perfect love casts out fear," she tells us. Stating that we must embrace the earth and all its inhabitants, seeing ourselves as a collective, not individuals with different needs, she comes full circle, ending with the title of one of her most recent books, saying "we are the ones we have been waiting for."

She leaves as she arrived, guided by Rudolph Byrd, bowing and butterflying as we applaud and cheer.

A beautiful soul, a beautiful spirit. I am honored to have been present at this reading, and for a change, I feel proud to be a part of Emory.

My Mother’s Blue Bowl

by Alice Walker

Visitors to my house are often served food—soup, potatoes, rice—in a large blue stoneware bowl, noticeably chipped at the rim. It is perhaps the most precious thing I own. It was given to me by my mother in her last healthy days. The days before a massive stroke laid her low and left her almost speechless. Those days when to visit her was to be drawn into a serene cocoon of memories and present-day musings and to rest there, in temporary retreat from the rest of the world, as if still an infant, nodding and secure at her breast.

For much of her life my mother longed, passionately longed, for a decent house. One with a yard that did not have to be cleared with an ax. One with a roof that kept out the rain. One with a floor that you would not fall through. She longed for a beautiful house of wood or stone. Or of red brick, like the houses her many sisters and their husbands had. When I was thirteen she found such a house. Green-shuttered, white-walled. Breezy. With a lawn and a hedge and giant pecan trees. A porch swing. There her gardens flourished in spite of the shade, as did her youngest daughter, for whom she sacrificed her life doing hard labor in someone else’s house, in order to afford peace and prettiness for her child, to whose grateful embrace she returned each night.

But, curiously, the minute I left home, at seventeen, to attend college, she abandoned the dream house and moved into the projects. Into a small, tight apartment of few breezes, in which I was never to feel comfortable, but that she declared suited her “to a T.” I took solace in the fact that it was at least hugged by spacious lawn on one side, and by forest, out the back door, and that its isolated position at the end of the street meant she would have a measure of privacy.

Her move into the projects—the best housing poor black people in the South ever had, she would occasionally declare, even as my father struggled to adjust to the cramped rooms and hard, unforgiving qualities of brick—was, I now understand, a step in the direction of divestiture, lightening her load, permitting her worldly possessions to dwindle in significance and, well before she herself would turn to spirit, roll away from her.

She owned little, in fact. A bed, a dresser, some chairs. A set of living-room furniture. A set of kitchen furniture. A bed and wardrobe (given to her years before, when I was a teenager, by one of her prosperous sisters). Her flowers: everywhere, inside the house and outside. Planted in anything she managed to get her green hands on, including old suitcases and abandoned shoes. She recycled everything, effortlessly. And gradually she had only a small amount of stuff—mostly stuff her children gave her: nightgowns, perfume, a microwave—to recycle or to use.

Each time I visited her I marveled at the modesty of her desires. She appeared to have hardly any, beyond a thirst for a Pepsi-Cola or a hunger for a piece of fried chicken or fish. On every visit I noticed that more and more of what I remembered of her possessions seemed to be missing. One day I commented on this.

Taking a deep breath, sighing and following both with a beaming big smile, which lit up her face, the room, and my heart, she said: Yes, it’s all going. I don’t need it anymore. If there’s anything you want, take it when you leave; it might not be here when you come back.

The dishes my mother and father used daily had come from my house; I had sent them years before, when I moved from Mississippi to New York. Neither the plates nor the silver matched entirely, but it was all beautiful in her eyes. There were numerous cups, used by the scores of children from the neighborhood who continued throughout her life to come and go. But there was nothing there for me to want.

One day, however, looking for a jar into which to pour leftover iced tea, I found myself probing deep into the wilderness of the overstuffed, airless pantry. Into the land of the old-fashioned, the outmoded, the outdated. The humble and the obsolete. There was a smoothing iron, a churn. A butter press. And two large bowls.

One was cream and rose with a blue stripe. The other was a deep, vivid blue.

May I have this bowl, Mama? I asked, looking at her and at the blue bowl with delight.

You can have both of them, she said, barely acknowledging them, and continuing to put leftover food away.

I held the bowls on my lap for the rest of the evening, while she watched a TV program about cops and criminals that I found too horrifying to follow.

Before leaving the room I kissing her on the forehead and asked if I could get anything for her from the kitchen; then I went off to bed. The striped bowl I placed on a chair beside the door, so I could look at it from where I lay. The blue bowl I placed in the bed with me.

In giving me these gifts, my mother had done a number of astonishing things, in her typically offhand way. She had taught me a lesson about letting go of possessions—easily, without emphasis or regret—and she had given me a symbol of what she herself represented in my life.

For the blue bowl especially was a cauldron of memories. Of cold, harsh, wintry days, when my brothers and sister and I trudged home from school burdened down by the silence and frigidity of our long trek from the main road, down the hill to our shabby-looking house. More rundown than any of our classmates’ houses. In winter my mother’s riotous flowers would be absent, and the shack stood revealed for what it was. A gray, decaying, too small barrack meant to house the itinerant tenant workers on a prosperous white man’s farm.

Slogging through sleet and wind to the sagging front door, thankful that our house was too far from the road to be seen clearly from the school bus, I always felt a wave of embarrassment and misery. But then I would open the door. And there inside would be my mother’s winter flowers: a glowing fire in the fireplace, colorful handmade quilts on all our beds, paintings and drawings of flowers and fruits and, yes, of Jesus, given to her by who knows whom—and most of all, there in the center of the rough-hewn table, which in the tiny kitchen almost touched the rusty woodburning stove, stood the big blue bowl, full of whatever was the most tasty thing on earth.

There was my mother herself. Glowing. Her teeth sparkling. Her eyes twinkling. As if she lived in a castle and her favorite princes and princesses had just dropped by to visit.

The blue bowl stood there, seemingly full forever, no matter how deeply or rapaciously we dipped, as if it had no bottom. And she dipped up soup. Dipped up lima beans. Dipped up stew. Forked out potatoes. Spooned out rice and peas and corn. And in the light and warmth that was her, we dined.

Thank you, Mama.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Swan...he has no other name

I once had this entire movie memorized, from start to finish. I still know most of it, sadly...

"You want that creep to open the Paradise?"

"Do I look like a kidder?"

This is still on my list of my top 20 movies ever. Go rent it if you've never seen it. Brian De Palma, Jessica Harper, Paul camp and totally fabulous.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Birthday to my dad

My dad would have been 72 today. I miss him.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Thanks, Gray

Anybody know whose house this was filmed in? I remember this year. Michael was living on Cobb Street in a duplex where I used to have to shower occasionally when my water was off, which for some reason was often. Where was I living? Why did we not have water? What's my name again?

Ah, good times, good times...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Those wacky 80's

Hello, gentle reader. I am totally stealing an idea from my blog pal, Scott Heim. In his March 9 entry, he posted a bunch of "remember when" kind of videos, which made me very happy as I had forgotten about many of the songs, and a couple of the bands. So I'm gonna do the same. Here are my favorite videos (that I can remember in my senility, that is) from 1980 to 1983:

I'll start with the old homeboys, REM, "Baby I".

It's not a real video, but I sure do remember dancing to it.

P Furs, "Sister Europe":

I drove one cold November night from Athens to Decatur to see them. We hit a deer on Highway 78 and had to stop and call the police in case "the poor thing is still alive and out in the bushes hurt." That quote is from the girl riding shotgun that night, Miss Jessica Fisher.

Split Enz, "I Got You":

Elvis Costello, "Kid About It":

Some of the best lyrics ever written are on this album...I just realized I'm gonna have to do a whole post just on Imperial Bedroom, so stay tuned.

"Punctured bicycle, on a hillside, desolate." Need I say anything more?:

Buzzcocks, "Ever Fallen In Love":

They're lip-synching but who cares. This was my anthem for most of the '80s. And the '90s. And well into the 2000s, come to think of it...

The Church, "Under the Milky Way"...NOT from the timespan above, but the original video I posted suddenly became 'unavailable' once I'd posted it. Bastards:

More on this band later, too. They were very important to me for a long time...I met them once in a parking lot and gave them directions to the Moonshadow, where they were playing that night. Sweet guys...

And we'll end on a humorous note:

John Lydon and Keith Levine, Tom Snyder:

I love this cause Tom Snyder actually comes off as being fairly cool, and Johnny comes off as a total wanker. But I have to say, I saw PiL at the Agora, and the experience was great. They put on an amazing show, and Johnny was cool with it all. He even bummed a cigarette from me from the stage. AWWWW.

To be continued...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

30 years later, still boozin' it up together

I just spent the most wonderful night with my old best friend from high school. Jamie and I were best buddies during the years we were at Darlington together. Last night we couldn't remember exactly how long that was, but I think he came our junior year, which would make it two fabulous years of best friend-dom. In any case, we lost touch with each other after graduation but reconnected after our last high school reunion. He wasn't able to attend, but sent in his email address and we've been communicating that way for years.

Jamie and his fabulous wife, Laura, live in southern California, though he is originally from Albany, Georgia and she's originally from Virginia. They were passing through Atlanta on their way from Cali to Albany where Jamie's mom was celebrating her birthday. They spent the night here so we could get together. I told them they simply must move back. They are like my new best friends.

When I got to their hotel Laura and Jamie had been drinking for a while and they promptly ordered me a Cosmo (note pinkish monster in front of me.) Jamie was feeling very generous, and before one glass was completely empty, there would be another round placed before us. After two rounds, Jamie informed me that he was going to be putting me in a cab cause he wasn't letting me drive. I happily agreed. After six Cosmos...yes, I said six...we went outside to have another ciggie. I barely made it to the smoking area when I realized I was far, far too drunk. I sat down and Jamie sat next to me and I was suddenly aware that I couldn't sit upright anymore. I laid my head in his lap, not caring that there were other people in the smoking area of the hotel (read strangers) who were watching me. I figured taking a nap in front of them was better than passing out or throwing up, my two other options.

In a minute Laura said "Jules, you're coming up to our room" and we started walking towards the elevator. I honest to God thought "I'm gonna have to sit down here in the lobby for a few minutes" cause I didn't think I would make it. I barely did. We got to the room and I fell on their spare bed and halfway passed out. Then the other half of me decided it was time to throw up. I fought it back, thanks to the cold bottle of water Jamie placed in my arms which I held against my neck to calm down the nausea. Then I passed out for real. I woke up at 6:30, still in my friggin' contacts, and even though I tried to convince myself I was in my own bed, I finally accepted that I was not, and that I was indeed going to have to get up and go find my car and drive home. So I did. Quel night.

I guess the motto of this story is no matter how young you feel, you're really 47 years old, way too old for that much alcohol. Cause brother, I'm paying for it today. But it was all worth it.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

March 6

Humorous Pictures

I'm pretty happy about my birthday this year, mainly cause I've got a major party this weekend, drinking absinthe and spending an extended period of time with a man who makes me insanely happy. I am counting the minutes until our 19th century debauchery re-enactment begins.

I also am damn happy this year because I've come through the fire and survived, and maybe even become a better person. I never thought I'd be saying this so soon - relatively speaking - but I am better. More than better, I am fine. I'm healed, quoi...

Thank you, Jesus. And everyone else who pulled me though this.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Sex and the City (of Atlanta)

Though I sincerely wish I was coming in here to write about the fabulous sex I had last night, alas, I am not. I am instead going to tell you about the fabulous dinner I had last night, which is a close second. Okay, not so close, but enjoyable nonetheless.

I had been working at the library all day, and planned to meet Domenica at Starbuck's or something afterwards, cause we needed to catch up.

Domenica:God, I love her. Anyway, I called her as I was leaving, and she said (in a much more roundabout way, as she is wont to do): "I'm leaving the Fox Theatre now and am stopping at a restaurant to get a to-go salad for lunch tomorrow. Do you want to meet at Apres Diem for dinner?" Though technically I had my evening planned out...go home, eat with kids, bathtime, Extreme Home Makeover...this sounded so much more fun and, well, slightly decadent. So I accepted.

Now, I have a theory about Atlanta which is this: poor old Atlanta has tried for so long to carve out an identity for itself that it lost any inherent natural charm it ever had in the first place. But somehow, once the push to be an 'international' city ended, once city planners stopped insisting that some slogan would give it character and personality, it acquired something resembling cosmopolitanism all on its own. And last night at Diem just brought that fact home to me once again.

It was a lovely, balmy night. I walked through the outdoor cafe and into the restaurant. The cafe was completely full of real city-dwellers - artists, families, dogs, couples - and amazingly enough, the vibe was totally European. I felt like I had arrived at a neighborhood bistro in a particularly interesting part of Paris. Fabulous.

Inside it was a bit quieter, but no less interesting. Professor-types, young women celebrating birthdays, gay couples, another family (this one speaking French)...very fun. I made my way to a corner table by the window, ordered a Cosmo and waited for Domenica. Sitting there alone, I had a distinct feeling of being in a real city, a part of some kind of buzz. It was nice, because most of my life I spend in the same old circle of kids' schools, my school, and our neighborhood, with an occasional exciting foray into the wilds of downtown Decatur. But to come to Midtown and rub elbows with the elite and the well-heeled intelligensia, now that was something new.

My girl finally arrived, cell phone in hand, wearing a leather jacket and red velvet pants, and of course, no makeup. She's 30 and beautiful, what can I say? She sat down and we gnoshed and talked well into the night, mainly about our love lives: her unexpectedly complicated one and my unexpectedly amazing new one. It felt very Sex and the know how they're always eating salads and drinking alcohol and generally being fabulous as they talk about men and sex and stuff? That was me and Domenica last night.

Sometimes, life is unbelieveably good. It's kind of been that way for me for the last four weeks. Last night brought it all home.