Results tagged “Bakersfield” from this Public Address 2.0
Besides the death of romance, my most mind-shattering shock after moving from California to Arkansas was the loss of audience. The stereotype of life in the Southern/Midwestern states is that people are friendly. Arkansas is a bit of both, perhaps more Southern than Midwestern— it did join the Confederacy, after all. I think that it’s the misreading of visitors, and natives, to make the claim for the happy helpful down-home folks. I find them cliquish and closed, as they smile big and say “no thank you.” Politeness and friendliness are discrete quantities. The shadow of politeness is dark, like most shadows.
I’ll never forget the gasp of horror when I first said “fuck” in public. It wasn’t that I used the word, people in Arkansas certainly do cuss frequently— but I said it in public. People around here never swear in front of people they don’t know. They also don’t ask anything of strangers, or impose their feelings upon them without extreme circumstances. Deep social networks make it possible to live with little exploitation (except of friends and neighbors). Arkansas is uniquely tolerant of outsiders, really— but it is tolerance, not acceptance.
I come from a freeway town in California. No one stays in a place like Bakersfield by choice, except those who have become complacent enough to accept that it’s an easy place to be. And it was easy. There was no veil of politeness, guarding you from what people were really thinking— they would tell you to “fuck-off” in no uncertain terms if the situation demanded it. Because everyone seemed to be in a constant state of passing through, the urge to exploit people for whatever talents or skills they had was strong. Get it while you can, in no uncertain terms. Life is rootless, wandering, and evanescent. One advantage of the climate of exploitation is that in some ways, you always feel wanted, needed— there’s always something that you might be good for. A ready-made audience of hungry eyes, and ears.
Strangers in the South aren’t needed. I walked through this state with my “exploit me” neon sign flashing for the first few years. I photographed for a charity, and made myself known to many of the musicians. My phone never rang. Unless you’re selling, they don’t want to take. They are far too polite for that. I’m sick of selling, and I really never want to do it again. I’m more intimately acquainted with being sold. For years in California I seldom bought a drink. There was always someone who wanted to seduce you into their project, their vision of how you might be used. I mistakenly thought that because I had some talent it should be easy to find some project to distract me, some new audience for my particular historical skill. No one ever bought me a drink in Arkansas. I had an exhibition in the most popular “counter-culture” hot spot in the city after a year or so. No calls, no comments, no thank-you. I discovered that to be exploited, I’d need to sell myself into it. I want to avoid selling, but in order to get an audience I suppose you do have to sell someone.
Without an audience of some sort, life becomes a bit meaningless. I think that’s why I felt like teaching was the only way out. A group of people sits on the other side of the room. You do your best to fulfill your obligation to impart something to them, to help them understand the subject you try to teach. You don’t have to sell them on exploiting your talent, the environment itself dictates the relation— you have something to give, and students are free to take what they want from you. The only real coercion involved is convincing students that the subject is important enough to pay some attention to. Of course, this means to a certain extent I’ve got to sell again— sell an establishment on my mastery of the material, and my ability to convey it. I’m looking at that as my final sales job. All I really want is an audience willing to exploit me, and I hope I can convince the guardians at the gate to let me in. My abilities as a photographer became unimportant to me when I found that there was really no one who wanted to look at my photographs. Without feedback, reactions to the work, you merely stand in one spot and stare at your navel. There can be no progress, no growth. Ever the adaptive, I’ve been forging new skills with words in the hopes that someone might want to exploit me for it.
I really just want to be exploited. I just came to the wrong part of the country for that. The land of “please” is also filled with “no thank you.” I hope I can find my way out of it soon. The place is incredibly beautiful, polite, picturesque— but my tastes lead into a gaudier sense of the sublime. One day I will return to photography, I'm sure— when I have satisfied my need for exploitation.