Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"The Office" (workstation series) 66 (access-to-revolution edition)

Still plugging away in the archives. Today was a day filled with misfires and wrong turns. Support staff at the museum is fantastic, but a whole bunch of misinformation led to missed meetings (and no meetings).

Never mind: good work in the archives, and nothing found to subvert theses. Tomorrow into NYC via train, to visit here, and check out MSS and other ephemera in their collection.

Also have to be plugging away with preparing paper (45:00 minutes, general audience) for Saturday symposium, and the repertoire for the after-symposium concert.

One thing I've learned on conference and research trips is to refrain from being so penurious that I don't do anything at all. "Poverty mentality" is the phrase Dharmonia and I use to describe what happens to you if you're (voluntarily) broke for enough years--as a graduate student, a working musician, or other freelancer--that when you're not broke anymore, you still have a hard time treating yourself with some financial decency. I still suffer from it, even when I'm on a grant that's funded by somebody else: I'll picnic in the room for dinner, eat the free steam-table food for breakfast, all to avoid running down the capital on the grant. That's partly poverty mentality and partly (I would argue) simple economics: I don't want to piss away so much money on over-priced lunches and dinners--at which I will always overtip, because of my nausea at the way that most Civilians short-change wait-staff--that I curtail an additional trip.

My attitude about a research grant comes out of my experience with record companies: one of the most valuable pieces of advice I ever got from a music business lawyer (the great Sam Ardery of Bloomington Indiana) was "don't short-change yourself on the contractual advance. The more money the company invests in you up-front, the more they'll continue to invest in order to recoup that advance." Same thing goes for a grant: the granting agency (public, private, corporate, government, or university) is investing bucks because they expect to get something back--not dollars, but more likely repute, outreach, recruitment, and so on. What they don't expect us to do is spend it all on meals and peripherals. And, considering that I'm used to living about 60% lower than the university's mandated per diem, it's not much of a burden.

But what I have learned, when I'm on the road by myself and especially in boring places, is to find at least one interesting and local place to eat, and--ideally--at least one good bookstore. Most typically the local place to eat is easier, because I'm reasonably happy with anything that's different than what I can get at home (though eating with Quantzalcoatl and Co. in Albuquerque and hearing them describe our table as "foodies" was a novel experience), like, say, the Canterbury Ale House:
Finding a good bookstore is a little tougher. Of course, that's partly a result of my criteria: I don't give a shit about the Barnes & Rubble's and Borders, etc--not because they're not good, but because shopping there I might as well be shopping at Amazon, but the problem with the chains and the websites is that they can't usually make me aware of things I don't know about.

The website recommendations (of Amazon, Netflix, Youtube, et al) will almost never bring you to things you won't actually know. My interests are too esoterica, or the mass-marketing of the giant chains too generic, for the recommendations to do me much good.

Which is why a good bookstore is fantastic. And a good bookstore that's an independent which has a good representation of my topic areas (see the header for clues) is even better.

And a good bookstore with all those attributes that also has a big used-and-remaindered inventory is even better.

And when it's across the street from the Canterbury Ale House, it's the best.

You could almost forget you were on Long Island.

Which is the horrible fly in the ointment. When Dharmonia and I are traveling--especially when driving--we'll go through some righteously back-of-beyond places, like, say Sudan Texas, or Earth, or Shamrock, etc, and I'll say "Jesus, am I glad I'm not a sixteen-year-old in a town like this." Because what's charming, or interesting, or funky, or simply exotic twilight-zone Americana when you're in your forties, with a good car and a degree and a profession and a house and a retirement plan, and you simply know enough about the Big World Out There to realize that there's not only life beyond Sudan Texas, but that with the right combination of smarts, focus, imagination, and effort, you can actually find the life Out There--is simply horrifying, stultifying, and infuriating when you're sixteen and you can't get out yet. If you're lucky, you've got parents who take steps to compensate for the (geographic or sociological) isolation, or a high school teacher who reveals to you the worlds that books can open, or a coach who insists that when you go on road trips you have to try new foods or take the tour or stay with a host family, or a best friend who's an exchange student. If you're not luck, you get clueless adults who are working too hard or themselves too stunned by their (geographic or sociological) isolation, to help you get out, and you wind up driving up and down and up and down Main Street on Saturday night, hoping for a fight to break the monotony, or breaking into the High School to steal test masters because you think it's easier to cheat than to just do the fuckin' work, or surfing the Internet and joining hate groups of other in-disguise sixteen year old would-be skinheads who are as enraged as you, or working 40 hours a week outside of school so you can buy a new car to drive up and down Main Street.

Long Island isn't Sudan Texas--but you damned sure have to drive to get to anything. And the shores and the historic districts and the museums and the good ball parks are almost all in the wealthy towns. You can't walk anywhere: you have to drive to get to anything, and when you do get to places where you can walk, or look at the ocean, or get some sense of the history and topography and natural ecology of this place, you're where the Rich Folks live.

And you're just a visitor.

This is why ownership is at odds with education. The owner class wants bored drones who'll sit at home and watch Cops or Fear Factor--not people who learn things, and question things, and acquire the skills and brains and confidence to change their fucking situations.

And that's why I'm a teacher: because it's the most revolutionary, tear-down-the-walls, betcher-Ass-this-is-class-warfare task I can perform. I don't want my guys driving up and down Main Street, or working 40 hours a week at a dead-end job to buy a new car, or breaking into high schools, or joining hate groups in the Internet.

I want them to learn, and experience, and question, and develop skills and brains. And then I want them to tear down the walls.

Any of them. All of them.

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