Certainly going to an academic conference in Atlanta and spending a lot of time with some dear friends you haven’t spent a lot of time with in years while you’re there is not going off the grid. Especially if your guilty pleasure is HGTV Land – a place where you see others buying Tiny Houses (Note: That’s 150 sq. feet) in the middle of nowhere or a family of six voluntarily uprooting their lives to live in a South American jungle in what looks like a ramshackle hut with no indoor plumbing.
I mean, where’s the cable? Not to mention, how about reception? Because I need to call…oh wait I cancelled that. Still, I was supposed to finish…Right, I was told that can wait another few weeks or more. In fact, that’s why I’m here.
Here is not necessarily Atlanta – a city I had never been to before this past week and rather enjoyed. Here is also not hanging out for several days at a Hilton with a room full of academics who were far more hyper analytical about films and television than me (Note: Yes, it’s possible and more about that in a moment). Here is actually just being there, or more directly – anywhere but where you and I, let’s call it WE, usually are.
Full confession – I don’t much like travelling or even roughing it. I enjoy my pad, my things, my friends, and my routine. This doesn’t mean I don’t crave going out and seeing places or spending time in a new city with people I don’t know. It is simply to say – even before you had to take your shoes off in an airport and wait on 60-90 minute lines carrying all kinds of stuff you probably don’t need/want people to see that will nevertheless be scanned (along with yourself) by state of the art technology – the idea of interrupting my flow of work for a journey felt….frivolous, difficult and even a bit scary. Especially if it meant hassling with planes, trains and automobiles as well as all of the other people who love them and use them.
This, sadly, sounds very American and slightly privileged and, frankly, I’m not particularly proud of it. On the other hand, neither am I ashamed of it. Because I suspect more than a few others feel the same way. I’m not talking about the dream vacation somewhere exotic. Certainly any of us would crave this if we could afford it. Rather this is all about short trips – making an effort to break up the day, the week or the month with an adventure. Stepping out of your comfort zone to do something, anything you might not ordinarily do. Even if it’s just for part of a day. Or perhaps even…a group of days?
It’s a mind clearer. An eye opener. It likely won’t be a revelation – I mean, the very nature of revelations is that they’re rare. But it could very likely lead you on the road to one.
An adventure needn’t be exotic. Despite my normal state of malaise, every week or so even I manage to walk our pooch down a new street in a different direction and discover something I hadn’t seen before. Would I do this without the pooch? Certainly, not! But dog walking for a dog owner, like academic conferences for a college professor, are necessities of life. So once they get you out of the house, it’s a bit easier to break up the routine and encounter something new.
I can’t tell you exactly what a unique discovery will do for you but through experience I’ve found that at the very least it gets you out of yourself. (Note: And for some of us, that can only be a good thing). It also gives you bizarre snippets of knowledge.
For instance, did you know that groups of straight men are really into group-watching Frozen? An academic I know presented a whole paper on it where he shared this video you might or might not have seen. (Note: Thanks Sean!)
And, being in Atlanta, of course there was a panel on Gone with the Wind. Were you aware that if you check out the archive at the University of Texas at Austin you will find three types of letters written to its producer David O. Selznick during the three-year period between when the film was first announced and produced? The first set of letters suggested possible movie stars who would be good in the lead role; the second were suggestions from white people of African Americans they knew that would be good for playing the roles of the…gulp…slaves (Note: Often these were the real-life domestics of the white people themselves and even included a request from Eleanor Roosevelt, who got her own childhood maid an audition for Mammy which said maid nervously flubbed). The third group: well, this was from another large gaggle of white people who themselves wanted to play the roles of the…SLAVES.…in the film…because, well….they specialized performing in…BLACKFACE. Really. Yes.
To realize the latter stack of those letters were written during the lifetimes of millions of senior citizens still on earth is to prove just how much, or perhaps how little, the world has changed, depending on your perspective since then. Consider that the next time you speak to or even see someone over 85. Or try to describe or even write someone in that age group. Makes you consider what the world would make of what’s going on in Election Year 2016 a mere 85 years from now, doesn’t it? Well, whatever it is, can’t all be good.
Am I exaggerating to state that you don’t know what slight change of perspective or even creative urge a small amount of knowledge will spark? I don’t think so. And even if it’s nil it could at the very least come in handy the next time you are forced to make some idle chatter when you’re at a place you did not choose to be. Who among us doesn’t crave some additional thoughts for that?
And wait, here’s another one – do you know most people in Atlanta don’t speak in southern accents? Okay, how provincial does one have to be to even think that, he said embarrassingly. Fine, then here’s one other final thought – did you know there is also a new major urban renewal project in the city, that came into being from a student’s graduate thesis, which has created many miles of revitalized winding swaths of road with people, condos, stores, bike paths and actual human interaction in a previously slightly undesirable area of city located on the former Beeline train tracks of Krog Street – that is somewhat similar to the High Line revitalization in New York City – that…. Uh, well…you can see it for yourself.
Heck, the entire Atlanta trip was worth it if only because it allowed me to realize that the future will not include society letting the rest of our major cities crumble. Living in nightmarishly traffic-ridden, infrastructure crumbling Los Angeles, it’s easy to think that. But if that isn’t happenin’ in Atlanta or New York, it for sure ain’t happenin’ here. For one thing, we Angelenos are much too vain…
As is anyone who writes a blog or refuses to deviate from their own little routines. Which, admittedly, most of us are. But if you’re gonna be self-involved it helps to occasionally involve yourself with something and someone else. Not only does it break up the monotony of and preoccupation with you, it has a side benefit for the rest of the world – you (meaning we) — just might learn something. And pass it on.