Monday, February 4, 2008

impossible descriptions of nuances.

I got a letter from Sarah Lawrence today. They say they will mail out notifications of acceptance no later than March 17th. Sarah Lawrence and NYU are more and more my dream schools, along with UT Austin. New York and Texas, two places so different from each other, and also so different from my hometown.

I’ve begun thinking of all I will miss in south louisiana.

I will miss erratic weather and the way past and present and future and you and me and they and we twist into one another. Braid and unbraid like language. ya’ll, youwall, yawl, youwall, ya’ll.

The way it dips from 75 degrees to 30 degrees overnight during the month of December and again in February. Thunderstorms that violently swallow every bit of existence – the houses, the streets, the trees – until they simply STOP. Like a punctuation mark on paper. A period writ in bold print. You’ll miss humidity and high temperatures in July, 99 degree moist heat that incapacitates you. No good public pools, just expanses of uninviting swamp water-bayous of mosquito larvae. Hurricane season in late summer and early fall that binds you to your house to drink white Russians and mint juleps while you play cards.

I will miss the way a person cannot go anywhere without knowing someone. Just as I was typing those words, a girl I know walked through the door of the coffee shop I am sitting in. I smiled and nodded recognition. She waved hello. When you leave the red stick, you'll feel it sharply – how you have suddenly been displaced from the closest thing you’ll ever be able to call community. Even people you don’t know, strangers passing on the sidewalk, will say, “hello” as they pass. “Hi. How’s it going?” “Great. Thanks.” All these words formed and sounded out while you both continue to move. Then you pass one-another, move toward the next stranger with whom you will interact. Leaving BR, you’ll be displaced from the top-two asked questions, “Are you from Baton Rouge? Where did you go to high school?” For years, it was excruciating to you – you used to try so hard to not notice all the people you knew you knew in the grocery store, at the bank, at restaurants. But you’ve embraced it in recent years – knowing all these people who are not your friends, but who know you enough to say “hello,” enough to acknowledge your presence in generic spaces.

I will miss the Spanish Town Mardi Gras Parade, and every other excuse in the world, or rather, in southern Louisiana, to dress in costume. [This past Saturday was the parade. I wore the cowgirl ensemble again, but I wasn’t happy with being labeled “The Red Stick Ho.” I’m not a ho, and I don’t play one at parades, either. Even though I couldn’t pull together the pink sari, I’d say to people, “Hi. I’m Bobby Jindal’s little sister. Betty.” It went over very well. As I anticipated, there were Spears-family floats a-plenty.]

I will miss crawfish season, and festival season in general. Springtime filled with food, music, perfect weather.

I will miss the LSU and City Park lakes – grimy as they are. The year-round praying white herons and the annual meditating pelicans that bless those still shallow waters.

I will miss the rawness of this place. The relationships between brown and black and white. The way you know a white woman who was raised by a black woman, her nanny or maid or both. The way she loved that person like a mother throughout the day, then rode in the car in the evening when her real mother dropped this surrogate off to her own neighborhood. The way you listen to this woman, your friend, who could be many women here, narrate her confusion when she saw there were other children – the nanny’s own – who went without while their mother was away at a white woman’s house to mother white children. Her house. Her as a child.

The way it was to work in restaurants. White and a couple brown and maybe a couple black female waitresses, black male kitchen staffs – each staff spitting curses back and forth at one another. Each crew pissing out all of its toughness at the other – later, the way you sit at the end of a shift, no longer angry at the fuck-up the kitchen made with your table’s order. The kitchen staff, no longer angry that you let a steak sit too long in the window. You sit together, drink some beers. In this reality, because you are not the 50 or 60-something woman remembering and passing on, you are the 20-something college student – in this reality, you might take one of the kitchen crew home. Drive through poverty to its front door to drop off. Then it is up to you to make sense of it all.

I’ll miss the way I see and am part of these cycles still, the way I observe and feel them shift ever-so-slightly, not quickly enough. The way I sit brown in a mostly-white-bar on Monday nights to hear mostly-black poets perform words. The way the crowd is always slightly mixed but grows more and more mixed. The way, for a $5 cover, everyone respects everyone, even as the white people in the crowd squirm occasionally to be minorities in a room, to experience that discomfort first-hand. To have to make sense of what it felt like for those two black kids and those 3 asian kids that where in their English class in high school.

The nuance and complexity of race relations that has been part of my life for so long. Those nuances not reported on the news, never a part of a collective consciousness. I’ll miss being among friends who know these nuances intuitively, and who equally work intentionally to create shifts, shifts, shifts, that move us forward. Not so much the dirty south as it is the messy south. There is a white Baton Rouge and a black Baton Rouge. More often than we even recognize, there are points of experiences of, intersection. In these points, there is real beauty, there are serious challenges, often there is a level of comfort – sometimes helpful comfort, other times harmful, enraging comfort.

I fear stereotypes and inappropriate boiling-down that may be splashed in my face outside of this state. I fear that people will want me to, in my writing, validate their perceptions, rather than write my truth about experiences I am barely capable of articulating with justice.

I will miss the greenness of this place – the quality of light and color I have lived under for so long. Umbrella of dark green above brown water, pink azaleas and japanese magnolias dotting the horizon - what only a painting can properly capture. maybe impressionistic, maybe realistic.

Everything in south Louisiana is erratic weather. people and their interactions. food we eat. music – r&b and zydeco and jazz crossing paths. fusing and diverging, weaving in and out of one another. thick braid of humid, wet, spicy, spiteful, ignorant, forgiving, friendly, suspicious, industrious, common-sense and no sense – all these parts that occasionally melt into each other, rain down while wind blows hot then cold then hot and if you're lucky a spray of rain will touch your cheek, wet your eyelids.

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