Well, Blogger's not too hyped about my posting up a lot of photos, so I'm just going to post up one, and then a link to the rest of the online photo album. (Click here for the many photos.) The photo to the left shows Peggy writing a nice word on one of the signposts along our painting of a literal "Road to Recovery" (subtlety was of no interest to most of these business school students), and me moving from one side of the room to the other, probably to get a ruler or something. We are very nearly done here. What you see in the first photo after you click on the photo album link is what the murals looked like when we returned to work on Wednesday morning. The photos trace our progress from the walls of blue tape that confronted us at 9ish yesterday morning to the finished product at 4 that afternoon. Anyway, the photos tell the story, so I won't blather on any further.
Afterwards, Peggy and I drove home, changed, and then headed back to school to see a lecture given by novelist Margaret Atwood. She'd written a new take on an old story sort of novel called The Penelopiad, which told parts of The Oddysey from Odysseus's wife's point of view. At the lectern on-stage, standing in front of a packed house at Emory's Glenn Memorial Hall (a big church used for school functions like convocations and the like), she read a speech from a veritable sheaf of paper that ranged from the story of mad Madea to Conan the Conquerer to Tolkein, which I enjoyed. (Atwood is also a well-respected science-fiction writer). At times my attention drifted to my left elbow which had begun to throb (Peggy said it was from trying to keep my balance on the ladder that day), but overall she was impressive. Peggy liked it even more than I. Afterwards she signed books.
Back on Tuesday I talked about all the things I'd done on my eventful weekend and put off writing about them for some undetermined time later in the week. Well the mural thing happened so my schedule was wrecked. So here it is Friday and my plan is to talk about all of that stuff and nevermind how long the post gets. I will aim for brevity -- it is the weekend after all, and I know readership falls off when there's no work to be procrastinated from. So let's get into it.
Ruby Falls. On Sunday Peggy and I decided to take a drive. We didn't know where, just some damn place that wasn't this apartment. So we opted for Tennessee. We hadn't driven very far up 75 when we passed yet another outlet mall with yet another remaindered bookstore in it. I could see it from the freeway. The exit for the outlet mall was still handily accessible so, remembering my success at the last remaindered bookstore, I suggested we turn in and we did. Peggy looked through some other stores while I scanned every single title in the fiction section for books of interest. I found 4. Don DeLillo's Libra (about Lee Harvey Oswald), Donna Tartt's The Secret History, Alex Garland's The Coma (he wrote The Beach which I thought was readable), and a thriller that, according to a blurb, Stephen King thought was great. I read the author's bio and it turns out he used to be a production assistant on music videos in Los Angeles. I guess working in music videos is another well-trod path to published novelist. Hope remains. Then we went into an Enormously Fat and Freakishly Tall store and bought an overpriced pair of pants at a decidedly un-outlet store price. I was shocked and awed by the fit of some of the pants I tried on. One pair was designed for someone whose crotch comes down to their knees. When I sat down in them, the crotch tent created came up above the top of my gut.
Anyway, we got back on the road and noticed some signs that proclaimed that Ruby Falls was some miles ahead. I'd seen signs for Ruby Falls painted on barn roofs on what seemed like every road trip I'd taken with my family when I was younger, though no one had ever felt particularly tempted to visit it. Even though I've always imagined Ruby Falls to be an incedible rush of water falling down the face of a mountain comprised partially of rubies and emeralds, I knew even then that it would be underwhelming and that Dollywood was the obviously superior family excursion choice. But as perpetually bored adults with nothing to do and nowhere specific to go, Peggy and I agreed to go there and get it over with.
We exited off the freeway, drove a little ways around Lookout Mountain and came across the a large house-like structure made of rough-hewn wood and stone. This was where both Ruby Falls and the equally mythic Rock City were housed. We arrived at 6PM or so and worried we'd come too late on a Sunday night. But the place was packed. We went inside and asked the woman at the ticket booth about whether we should visit the Rock City or the Ruby Falls. Misunderstanding us, she gave us a look that was both apologetic but also a little wary and told us no-sense-of-time-havin' crazies that there was no way we could do both tonight. Ruby Falls it was.
We stepped over into the line to the elevator which runs from 8 in the morning till 9 at night. Ahead of us were some white guys speaking a different language. Peggy identified them as Germans, though their accent made them too hard for her to understand. After a bit we got into the elevator and descended through the mountain to the beginning of the path towards the falls. In my experience with show caves like this (meaning a cave that's designed for tourists, not Descent-style spelunkers), is that the tour guide is always a local teenaged boy who believes that his mastery of the tour, achieved over many grueling weeks of tour-giving, is an indication of a more general and far-reaching competence. This delusion makes them cocky. As a result, "tours" are given in a monotone designed to make the victim of said tour feel as though they and the others in their group are serving as stand-ins for the tour guide's own ill-regarded parents. No eye contact is made, no smiles -- false or otherwise -- are bothered with, and every movement the guide makes is with a mind towards economy and conservation of energy. Why expend energy on the likes of us, after all? All of this, I think, stems from their being teenagers. And yes, I hate them, but in my defense, I hated them way back when I was one.
The boredom that haunted the eyes of our guide was foreshadowing for what lay ahead. We were told beforehand that the entire ordeal was going to take one hour or so to endure start to finish. What they didn't tell us was that 56 minutes of that hour would be taken up with our walking through a cramped and and cheesily-lit cave passage with massive dust-bunnies fluttering in the passage above us. Periodically, "survivors", or, as described to us by our guide, those that had seen the falls and were nearly finished with their Ruby Falls ordeal, would squeeze past, 20 or more at a time. I inhaled a variety of body odors. Along the way cave features that were only slightly more peculiar than those around it had been named for something they vaguely resembled. Like "Bacon", and "Angel Wing" and "Turtle" and "Elephant Foot", etc. The Germans helped break up the monotony because every so often Peggy would decipher something they'd said and whisper it to me. "They're talking about German schools versus American schools," she said once. Anyway, once we came to the falls themselves, the guide's flashlight led us into a darkened chamber. Once the whole group was safely in, the rules were quickly outlined and then the light and sound show began. There, high above us, streaming out of a modest gap in the ceiling, illuminated by a light that changed colors to the music, was the waterfall. Straight ahead: a roundish pool of water into which the falls emptied. Soaring but totally forgettable music accompanied our slow shambling movement closer and closer to the pool of water. A little path around the backside of the falls was open to those "survivors" interested in the full Ruby Falls experience, so Peggy and I took that 30-second tour. Not much different than the front side of it. The trek back to the entrance was even more boring and interminable and claustrophobic than the trek in had been because all any of us wanted to do after seeing the falls was to get the hell out of there.
Once we got out, we walked up to an observation point built above the main structure and looked out on Knoxville by twilight. The Germans were next to us, taking pictures of one another making the peace sign and, after a moment or two, Peggy turned to them and asked, in German, if they wanted their picture taken together. With bewildered expressions they said, "It's OK," nodded and started to move towards the stairs. I told her that they were probably going over in their minds the conversation they'd had while they were in the cave, wondering if they'd said anything they wouldn't have if they were speaking English.
Though neither of us was particularly impressed with the place, we had gone and done something that wasn't seeing yet another movie or going to yet another bookstore, so Ruby Falls' uniqueness had made up for how unimpressive/rundown the whole thing was. And also, without being too corny/sappy, enduring it with Peggy made it fun in a this-is-so-bad-its-kinda-fun sort of way. Anyway, that was Ruby Falls.
Onto the Decatur Book Festival. (I told you this could be long). Decatur's been touting this thing for months and months, and rightly so. This is Atlanta's long-overdue annual book festival. (All we need now is a worthwhile big city independent bookstore). Big names attended, like Michael Connelly, the writer of police procedurals, Diana Gabaldon, writer of 1,000-page time-traveling romance novels, Edward P. Jomes, author of Pulitzer Prize-winning The Known World, and Arianna Huffington, writer of... books. We gathered in the auditorium of Agnes Scott College and listened as Arianna talked about "being fearless", as this was the subject of her new book, called, appropriately enough, Fearlessness. Because it was the kickoff event for the Decatur Book Festival, Arianna promised to keep to the subject of her book and away from politics, which, incidentally, was the only thing I was interested in hearing about from her. Oh well. I'll write beriefly about one interesting thing not related to what she actually said.
Max Cleland, the former Georgia senator who is also a double amputee from his service in Vietnam, was in attendance, though his own introduction was not as managed as I think he might have liked. The lights dimmed a little as though to let us know the show was about to start (it wouldn't start for another 10 minutes), and then some functionaries came out and started to mess with the wheelchair lift in front of the stage, lowering the ramp to it. Then down the aisle came Cleland, then onto the lift. The formerly boisterous audience fell silent and watched the lift slowly slowly raise the senator and his wheelchair up to the stage. He had his head bowed the whole time, and when he got to stage, his attendant wheeled him quickly into the wings. Peggy felt uncomfortable because she thought the inadvertant lowering of the lights prior to Cleland's arrival had made a kind of show of his ascent on the wheelchair lift -- the silence had been that of a roomful of gawkers staring at a cripple. But I thought the silence was more respectful than a gaping dumbstruck-ness. The room was jam-packed with loyal Georgia Democrats who not only respect and admire Cleland, but feel bad about the way he was ousted from office. (His opponent equated Cleland with Osama bin Laden in a campaign ad, not to mention Ann Coulter made fun of the way he lost those legs prior to his losing his seat). Later, after Arianna came to the lectern, she then re-introduced Cleland, doggedly sticking to script and telling us about her "surprise guest".
The following day was the Book Festival itself. All of Decatur was teeming with the nerdly bookish types, ambling from tent to tent looking for books or authors of interest. The pickins were surprisingly slim. The vast majority of the festival's outdoor tents were filled with self-published authors, by which I mean cranks and hacks and the generally talentless who had either circumvented the entire legitimate publishing route entirely, or had tried to query agents and editors, got only rejection, and decided that a vanity press was the only outlet for their worthy writing. The dazzling variety of this menagerie of the desperate or merely weird was fascinating and, at the same time, very depressing. Without irony, a massive black woman signed copies of her self-published how-to book entitled Resumes for Children. An old man slouching in a folding chair glared from beneath dark and unkempt eyebrows at the book-nerd masses -- he was trying to unload copies of his book of natural cures and doing badly at it. There were also a lot of novelists and mystery writers on hand trying to look cheerful even though 100% of the festival's attendees were passing them by. That there are so many whose life's ambition is to publish a book that lots of people read, and that their failure to do so seems so inevitable felt like just another in a series of wake-up calls. I tried not to take their failures too much to heart -- I cheered back up after a while. I promise that if I ever self-publish, I will not attempt to rope strangers into buying a novel that all queried agents and editors have turned their nose up at. If I self-publish it'll be to have a professionally-bound but generally amateurish-looking copy of my novel for my own bookshelves and then call it done and move on.
Anyway, I think that covers everything. Have a good weekend everybody. See you back here on Monday.