Showing posts with label A Record of a Pair of Well-worn Traveling boots. Show all posts
Showing posts with label A Record of a Pair of Well-worn Traveling boots. Show all posts

03 April, 2019

Field Notes, from March 29 2019: Oh, The Humanities


Air palpable with earnest outcries
read to the appropriate audience
words spent on prayers to gods
too busy to grant wishes

(From my last day at AWP:)

The folks I saw yesterday (Friday) were not out today. I want to believe that the old guy flying a sign on the corner of Halliday and MLK -- who, up close, doesn't look much older than me -- got what he needed and was able to sleep in doors last night. I want to believe that Tanya J. McDonald -- who told me her name 5 times and who was clearly released from a hospital with no sense of where she might end up -- was able to find peace and safety and some comfort in mourning her mother's death.

I saw them. I looked them in the eye and took their hands and helped in some small, temporary way. I want to believe it made a difference.

But I don't feel that optimistic today.

There's something about all the appropriate mourning and moaning here that's just so far-sighted in all the wrong ways. People see injustice at a distance and want to engage it. But when it's up close, they overlook. Or worse, they look through it like it's air.

Of course there's talk about Trump and  the peril to democracy -- mostly by white academics. When I hear work by writers of color, or by immigrant writers, or by people recounting stories of assault and the abuse of power, there is no presumption that democracy is in peril.

There is no presumption that democracy exists at all.


Beauty is abandoned
in the course of natural process --
the fragrance lingers,
a memory seized
right in the moment breath freezes.








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22 February, 2019

Reading the Grounds


Mick Parsons, #wellwornboots
Embrace the break in weather where you can. True, there are months when the last time you saw the sun feels like a dream; but when the rain break and there is a clear path, take advantage of it the best you can. [from Field Notes]

Even though I'm not bound to foot travel -- there is the bus, of course, and most recently, Mule -- I still like to walk. True, I could start up Mule and drive to a park and walk around a pre-designated track. I see merit in it, certainly for other people, because it's difficult enough to get exercise in a society that depends on us sitting in front of a computer, or staring at our phones, buying things. True, if you look long enough, nearly every aspect of the constructed reality we experience every day depends on commerce of some kind: whether it's the cappuccino I bought at the coffee shop today or the smiles my wife and I exchanged this morning before she left for work. But when I am not in motion in the world, there are fewer opportunities to see the world as it truly is instead of the filtered commodity that trickles in through my phone or my computer. When I am not in motion in the world, I'm not even certain the world exists.

Living as I do along the Ohio River, a once major artery of commerce of all kinds from coal, to slaves, to settlers, in a city whose very existence depended on commerce and The Falls that created a natural choke point for people to have to slow down and walk their boats through (Once Upon a Time), the metaphor and myth of commerce are a foundation upon which many myths have been  built.

But it's easy to let that take over... which is to say, it's easy to let that constructed reality dictate our
Mick Parsons #rubbertramp
Mule
our entire lives. And if the materialists are correct -- both the Capitalists and the Communists -- and we are simply matter in motion, then really, this constructed reality is nothing more than an increasingly complex maze we spend our days and nights in until one day, we stop moving and the maze moves on without us.

Unless there's something more. And when I walk around my neighborhood, or anywhere, and take in the sounds, the feel of broken cement underfoot, the vibrations of the coolish February air here in the grand divot that is the Ohio River Valley, I end up thinking of commerce as something more than buying and selling, more than money for sweat and blood, more than blood and bone in the name of man's most majestic and dangerous machination -- Contemporary American Society. 

This is why, I think, I am bound to travel whether I think I want it or not. A warm wind kicks up, the currents shift, and nothing is set right until I feel this world moving under foot. Because it's only in motion that this constructed reality shakes loose and the world opens itself wide for eyes willing to see, for ears willing to listen, and for hands willing to embrace it on its own terms. 


As old mystics read tea leaves
I flip my empty cup
open the heart, examining
the dark grounds and find
one more map towards
the river mouth and the sea.

Mick Parsons, #wellwornboots
The past is gone, the future is full.



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15 February, 2019

from Record of a Pair of Well-Worn Traveling Boots: Be Safe Out There [a brief ethnography]


The middle-aged black man was wearing a blue suit coat that was too big for him, worn around the cuffs, and missing a couple of buttons. It was October, and after dark, which meant it was a little chilly. His clothes under the blue coat were rattier than the coat. Tired flipflops left his feet exposed. In his hands, he held an empty baby bottle. He approached me after I finished pumping gas. Debit cards weren't a thing in those days, and neither were card readers on gas pumps. But in that part of the city, near the university and Short Vine -- another area I ended up spending a lot of time -- you walked in and paid before you pumped. And I've always preferred cash transactions, anyway --chalk that up to my small towniness. 

The town where I'm from isn't remote or isolated in a geographic sense, but I learned early there are other kinds of distance, other types of geography that are difficult to cross -- especially when it's crossed under duress. And truthfully, crossing the distance between where I'm from and where I have ended up wasn't so much a problem for me. But it took me a long time to figure out that there's no going back. Not really.

Cincinnati was the first place I escaped to when I got my driver's license. It was the closest city, and the nearest place of any size. And though I didn't mean to end up there, necessarily, I ended up in a part of town that I would, and do, return to: Over the Rhine. In those days, Vine Street was still an open market for pretty much any illicit thing you could want. Not that I tried any of it; I still had a healthy dose of small town naivete that, for good or bad, managed to save me. But I did witness my first drug deal and accidentally walk up on a sex trade transaction. All the parties involved were amused by my small town whiteness -- amused and too busy to punish me for it. Because while Cincinnati was a dangerous place, and while OTR was probably the place furthest from where I lived -- for a whole host of reasons -- it never once occurred to me that I might have been in danger. I explored it with an anthropologist's curiosity -- and detachment -- that has served me well over the years, no matter how deep I dived or how close to the bottom I got.

He started in by telling me he wasn't just panhandling. He was passing through, he said, pointing directionlessly towards the interstate. His car broke down and his wife and baby daughter stayed with the car because it was chilly out. He waved the baby bottle at me as proof that his story was true. In the moment it didn't occur to me that he might just be hustling for drug money; it did occur to me that he sounded too practiced to be in moment. Growing up as I did around a few truly ineffective liars, I had started to pick up an ear for that sort of thing.  But also, in that moment, I didn't care. I don't know if it was the dedication to his story, or the flip flops. But I gave him a few dollars, wished him luck.

- Be safe out there, I said. And then I got in my car and left, traversing the various geographies back to my hometown, where panhandlers were prime time television extras, where the poverty was just as palpable, but somehow different. A place I would not be able to look at in the same way, or ever really be able to stay -- though at the time I wasn't aware that anything in me had shifted.

I think about him often and wonder whatever happened to him. I see him in every face I've met doing outreach. I've revisited that moment hundreds, maybe thousands of times over the years. And while I don't know if that was when it all changed or when it first occured to me that something had, I'm forever grateful that he crossed my path.


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16 January, 2019

from Record of a Pair of Well-Worn Traveling Boots -- Anticipation

I was traveling when my wife and got together. Our courtship was one of distance and of patience: letters, emails, phone calls when a charged battery and available cell towers permitted. The pattern of my leavings started even before that, though, back when we were still just friends, still in our 20's, both of us, I think, still searching, though for very different things. I remember going to tell her I was going to drop out of college. It was a deliberate trip out to see her. I went alone because anything I said I only wanted to say to her. She greeted me in a gorgeous sun dress and when I told her I was leaving, the light left her face like the sun disappears behind a storm cloud.  

But because our courtship probably would not have existed without my leavings, they have been a part of our relationship from the start. 

She knows I have to go from time to time because the ticky-tock thing in my gut won't stop long enough for me to stay home like normal people do. I call that behavior normal because it is the most common, and for those who choose it I say have at it. I love my wife and I love my home -- Louisville, Kentucky breaks my heart like no other place I have ever lived. But still, when the wind kicks up, the current shifts, and urge to go sweeps up upon me, it's bad business to ignore it. And though I've written about it before, I feel like I need to reiterate: traveling as I do is not the same as a vacation. It's true that I often visits friends when I travel. But a vacation is, by definition and practice a respite from normal living to go and do something outside of the daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly routine for the purposes of being able to reintegrate back into that same routine with renewed vigor.

I decided that was bullshit 20 years ago, and life has done nothing to change my mind.

And while it's true that I love being home when I am home, I always feel like I'm in between trips. No matter how present I try to be, no matter the fact that I love my life, my wife, our home, and the grand art we are creating in building our life together, the fact is I spend a lot of time thinking about ways to better perfect my pack so that when I go, I'm as streamlined and prepared as possible. I buy clothes based on durability and utility (pockets).  It's not even an active thing on my part. It's just how my brain is wired.

So when the wind kicks up... I go.

But I always know the way home, even if it's the long way.
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