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Catch as Catch Can
April 5, 2000


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When you throw things against the wall, some of it sticks and some of it doesn't. Take journalling. After I started this journal last April, a number of others started up. (A good number of them started up because of Bill Dickson's journal instead of this one, admittedly.) It was, as the kids say, quite the in thing.

And today, some of them continue and most of them don't. It's not particularly easy to do this day in and day out. Which is obvious. After all, for quite a long time I didn't miss a day's journalling, whereas now missing a week is par for the course for me. Heck, look how long it's been since the last. March twenty-third. Now that's uncalled for. Even the people who still have active journals are slow these days -- it's springtime, and we all have too much to do. Including, of course, walking outside and seeing the sunshine and the beginnings of spring. The water is freeing up on the lake, and the rain we've had along with the considerable snowpack that's melting should mean Spring will come on time this year, not like last year, and that's exciting.

I've had a busy time of it, of late. At the end of the month, I had Travel Week. It opened with Lunacon, which I drove to with Mason and Van -- five hours of trip, carefully monitored by the GPS system I have for this machine. This was in Rye Brook, New York, and I saw many people I like very much, many of whom have described the trip in much greater detail than I will here. Jesse Taylor's is the closest, though it didn't cover the Death Elevators, the Service Exit Caper, or the post Con wrapup he wasn't around for.

That lasted until Sunday night of last week. We got in sometime after ten p.m. We were very tired (sitting around talking until four in the morning was the norm, after all). Monday would have been a day off to stay at home and recover, but alas, I had things to prepare for. Apple was running a one day Conference here at the Academy on Tuesday, and I was one of the presenters. Further, on Thursday Alan and I were scheduled to go down to Richmond, Virginia and give a full presentation, taking two days. So he and I needed to work together for a while and we needed to have a group-wide meeting.

We did this. Tuesday came. It was all day, from eight in the morning to four in the afternoon, and it went very well. My presentations were good, though different. I learned a lot, like how to cut out a bunch of Powerpoint slides mid-presentation. Apple was very pleased. So were we. We had a turnout of a hundred at least, including one Graduate Director from Harvard, who struck up a pleasant conversation with me.

You know, when Harvard professors come to you to take your presentation on something, you know you're doing something right.

I was totally exhausted at the end of this, and not very healthy. I've improved a lot, but I have limits and I can reach them. Sadly, I wouldn't have much of a chance to rest the rest of the week, either.

This started on Wednesday, where I had two long meetings with Alan during the workday and one in the evening, while we refined the presentation. I love working with Alan -- his mind darts like a hummingbird, cutting to the heart of a new point in seconds and implementing right after. But he can be tiring. I also had a medical thing to go to midday, which added to the stress.

One of the people I see at the medical thing is a counselor, who asked I not use the name of in my Journal, being a private person. I explained that my Journal isn't really about other people, but that I'd happily comply. I mention this because it's the first time my Journal's made someone nervous about potential inclusion. I've had people be offended they weren't included, but never nervous that they might be referred to, especially by name.

Well, said counseling is only of interest to myself and said Counselor, so I haven't mentioned it and won't mention it again, save that it's good to have someone to talk to about things, especially medical things.

I packed stuff up and went to bed, Wednesday Night. And despite exhaustion, I couldn't get to sleep until one a.m. The problem there is I had to be up at three, to be picked up at four for the airport.

Four a.m. Alan and I were on the road, being driven by a service to Logan. Seven a.m. saw us in the air, sweeping down to Virginia. The thought was we'd be picked up by a representative of Saint Catherine's, followed by a couple of hours of tour of the school, followed by checking into the Hotel, followed by sleep, followed by exploration of Richmond, one of the most beautiful cities in America (and one totally unlike my or Alan's experience of America to date).

Well... no. Not as such.

Alan and I were in meetings at Saint Catherine's essentially all day. These had everything to do with Alan's design model and theories of school reform and nothing to do with Information Technology, so I spent the entire day half-awake, nodding where appropriate. We had lunch there (typical cafeteria fare, which surprised me. Saint Catherine's has many times Brewster Academy's endowment, yet our food is so vastly superior to theirs it isn't funny), and we got a one hour driving tour of Richmond, with a very knowledgeable guide riding with us and explaining architecture and the like. Then more meetings until four or so, then checking in and zoning in our own ways for just under an hour before we were picked up to go out to dinner, where some Technology Coordinators from other area schools waited to delve into these theories again.

A very long day's work indeed. Bed felt very good that night.

A few notes on Richmond. It is in fact beautiful. Truly beautiful, with literally thousands of preserved, historical buildings throughout the city. You could see the evolution of American architecture just driving through. And this is a city with a conscious appreciation of the aesthetic, which many cities do not have. America is driven by the Puritanism of our forefathers, which means statuary (for instance) tends to the nonexistent or at least the fringe. Richmond has none of these affectation.

But there are strange things in Richmond. Tensions. Things a good Yankee like myself finds fascinating and perhaps disturbing.

Neighborhood is one of these things. Social standing is another. Richmond is gridded into neighborhoods, where people of a given class live. You can literally see one street with beautiful, million dollar townhouses lining the rows, just down from mansions and estates, and the next street looks like any lower middle class neighborhood. And people don't walk across that street from one to the other very often. Our guide made a few comments about "associating with his superiors," and not meaning his Headmaster but his social superiors. This means a very great deal in Richmond -- Old Money at the top, with Old Affluence and New Money somewhere underneath. Working Class is very low on the list. As Saint Catherine's is an exclusive private Girl's School, it's socially acceptable to "pitch in" there. Our guide joked how his Secretary would pack up at lunch and walk across the street to have lunch at the Country Club -- the most exclusive place in town -- then come back and work for him. How droll, to have his social superior working for him. He clearly never forgot the balance of power, either, and what situations led to what appropriate responses.

This is alien to me. I mean, I know there's social standing in Maine. I do. I've been to Kennebunkport and Falmouth Foreside. But that's for summer residents and the occasional eccentric millionaire. The average Mainer doesn't give a damn if you have a dollar or a billion dollars. Just don't block his damn driveway with your car, already. For that matter, what about that whole "American Revolution" thing, where we threw off the bonds of Aristocracy and declared that All Men Are Created Equal?

The answer, of course, is that people live as people live, and slogans don't change the tenor of a city. Time may or may not, but declarations don't. Social standing matters in Richmond because it's always mattered in Richmond. It's a highly Anglophilic city -- there are several British Flags flying and we drove by a Tudor House that was disassembled and sent across, as well as a stone Priory which got the same treatment. And so Anglophilic class distinctions match up too.

And then, there's the Civil War.

They have a street called Monument Avenue, in Richmond. Along this street are statues. Huge ones. Multi-story statues of granite and bronze, of men on horses. They start with Jeb Stuart, but all the greats get covered. Stonewall Jackson. Jefferson Davis (in what looks like a Greek Temple topped with Liberty's representation). Matthew Fontaine Maury (who was the architect and cartographer of the Confederate Navy). And a truly massive statue with the single word "LEE" on it in Bronze, the General on his horse above. As our guide put it, "You don't need more than his last name. Like God, Lee is three letters and everyone knows who you mean."

The statues are gorgeous. Wonderful pieces of work, inspiring reverence. They highlight the grandeur that statuary can bring to a city and a people, and the importance of highlighting and reinforcing our cultural icons.

But... and I know I sound hopelessly North when I say this... they're icons of Confederate Generals. Rebels. And they lost. And they stood for things we find reprehensible in modern society.

Oh, they stood for more than Slavery. The Civil War was far more about Federalism being opposed by States-Rights Advocates than the slavery issue that was the war's touchstone. But the rallying cry was still the buying and selling of human flesh -- the relegation of humanity to the status of property.

Alan, not being native to America, got to ask the question I was thinking of. "Why do you revere people who lost the war?"

Our guide looked distant with a smile. "There's nothing so romantic as a lost cause."

Romantic? I suppose. Certainly the statues are beautiful. But I spent a good while just yesterday looking at the far humbler statue of an everyman Union soldier, raised in New Hampshire granite in the center of Wolfeboro. Not a statue of Grant, or Lincoln, or the Union heroes. We don't revere the generals of the North. We revere the soldiers.

Class distinctions again, I suppose.

And then there's Race.

Race is alive and well in Richmond. The town has a majority of black citizens, and our guide said there was some tension. And places he wouldn't recommend going alone. Well, there's some racial tension in most cities.

One thing I noticed at Saint Catherine's, though. All the students I saw, all the faculty I saw, and all the administration I saw... were white.

All the groundskeepers, janitors and dining hall workers I saw were black.

And the two didn't exactly talk to each other.

I habitually say hello to people I meet. It's a hallmark of my small town upbringing. It takes me time and effort to train myself not to look at people in big cities, when I live in them. So I habitually said hello to the support staff as I passed by them. And they were all genial and warm, and clearly unused to acknowledgments.

At Brewster Academy, the support staff are... well, coworkers. Not servants. I'm no better than the head of buildings and grounds or his staff and I know it and they know it. We're all here for the same reason, and we respect each other for it.

I'm not accusing Saint Catherine's of disrespect. They're an excellent school and a happy one, and the support staff seems happy too. But they live in a different America than I live in.

Arthur Ashe has a statue on Monument Avenue now. It's as impressive as the Confederates. But it's the very last statue on the row, the only one of a black man, and it faces away from the Confederates, who themselves face away from Arthur Ashe. It seems indicative.

The next day, Alan and I gave our presentation after getting up at four (again) and riding a bus for three hours to the school hosting the conference. It went well, though we had far more material than time. We then drove to Dulles and flew home, both quite pleased with how it went.

Last weekend? I slept, thank you. I was exhausted, sore, overextended and...

...and not very breathless. Maybe I'm going to live.

In my copious spare time, I finished the revisions to Alaemon, who is now in my editor's hands for good. I won't see him again until the book is printed. My current project is poetic. I've written five poems on a Tarot theme -- not truly Tarot interpretations, so much as taking the standard interpretations of Tarot cards and having them suggest themes for the poems, which are then about... well, people. It's going well.

And I'm home, and not traveling anywhere for a while, thank you very much.

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