This last weekend brought a day trip down to Vicksburg for my grandmother’s 91st birthday; her name is Gladys. The last of her brothers died the week before (something she’s not in good enough health to know yet) and the family decided it’d be nice to convene in Vicksburg for something not depressing. For as good as it always is to see her, a stroke two years ago robbed her of the thing she was probably best known for: the ability to tell stories. Better writers than I have described the art that is the rambling southern narrative, but it’s worth saying here that she was a master at it.
My mom had this superstition that once you record someone’s stories, they pass on. I didn’t buy it, but I often let it stop me when I had the chance to make recordings of Gladys. As a result, I only managed to capture about five of the literally thousands of hours of oral history (her history) that she passed on to me over the years. What remains in my conscious recollections is but the tiniest sliver of an amazing life. The rest is locked away in my grey matter somewhere... hopefully it’ll come back one day.
Last night was the Lucy Lippard lecture at MCA. I know I recommended it here and it was a genuine recommendation (there is no discounting her importance as a voice in art criticism), but I actually tend toward a pretty unsympathetic reading of her work. Maybe it’s just me being catty because she’s made a career out of unsympathetic readings of other people, but listening to this New York intellectual waxing rhapsodic about her love of her (relatively) new found little New Mexican village I was struck by the thought that she was about one bad decision away from a pretty hypocritical bout of cultural imperialism. Or maybe I’m just being an ass.
Either way, she did spend a lot of time talking about place and how one develops a sense of it. Not particularly new ideas, but I think for me right now that’s a idea worth exploring. In the last month I’ve been to nearly all of the places I would have at one point or another called home, but I hardly feel like I’m “from” any of them anymore (or perhaps I’m from all of them, I’m not sure). Lippard quoted someone as saying that you learn about a place by listening to its stories. So much so that places can become so laden with stories that the name of the place comes to stand for the stories rather some location on a map.
I’ve come to believe that the same can be true of people.