I took a class in grad school on the Literature of the American West. It was taught by a Canadian and was probably my 2nd favorite seminar in grad school next to my Emerson class. I didn't love it because the books we read were astonishingly good. I mean, we read James Fenimore Cooper, for crying out loud (He wrote The Last of the Mohicans and the rest of the adventures of Natty Bumpo in the Leatherstocking tales. That's right. Daniel Day Lewis's ACTUAL character name in The Last of the Mohicans was Natty Bumpo. So sexy). No, I loved the class because it opened up the idea of a broken history to me...the idea that the American hero was a myth, and the atrocity of that myth is just as important in upholding American culture as the myth itself. There really were no heroes, just people...that took a chance.
We read a book by a woman named Caroline Kirkland, A New Home, Who'll Follow. In this book, Kirkland tells the story of her move to the great western frontier of Michigan. Michigan. But it's not drama and romance, nor is it bravery and heroism. In fact, she writes more about the hilarity and ridiculous culture and manner of the people she encountered in the land her husband informed her she would be living. By the time the book was published, everyone in town knew who wrote it and hated her for it because she refused to write heroes into corners where heroes did not exist. She wrote what she saw and what she experienced, not what the rest of America expected.
I think about her and her book, which I hurriedly read during my lunch hour before the class, when I go out in Dahlonega, when I bump into locals and listen to their stories, or when I read their stories in my conversations with other people, or when I just watch...and occasionally join in on the life that is Dahlonega, GA.
Warning: From this point on, the names have been changed to protect the innocent (me), but my guess is, if you're reading this, and you're from Dahlonega, you know who you are and who I'm talking about.
I began the evening at Shenanigans Irish Pub with professors. Mostly gay, all southern. I could listen to a cd of those people talking about their lives and their jobs and the other people in their lives for hours. I had to lean back, cross my legs, and fan myself while I sipped red wine and let the sounds of the south dance around my ears. I went from Shenanigans to The Historic Holly Theater to watch a show I had directed. Great fun. Nothing feels better than FINALLY relaxing to watch a play you've been blocking and coaching and tweaking to some semblance of perfection for the past month. The old people loved it. The young people loved it. It was okay for me to let loose.
So, from the Holly, I walked to everyone's favorite bro bar: Johnny B's because American Anodyne was playing, and the show was guaranteed to be a hit. Should I tell you what I was wearing? It seems insignificant compared to the antics I lovingly witnessed. I was wearing a dress from Banana Republic that my mother had bought me when I was 22. I'm pretty sure she had no idea at the time that I would be able to fill it out as well as I do now. The dress, a military chic, hit my curves like nothing I've ever experienced. My hairdresser and I had decided, earlier, that I had to wear heels tonight, no matter what. So I did, for six hours, until it didn't matter what was happening below the boob line. I put on my sandals and danced with Dahlonega until the bartenders kicked us out.
It's funny when a town like this comes together. You can spend night after night, month after month, seeing the same people frequent the same bars, grow weary of the familiarity of it all, but nothing feels quite like a night when it all comes together. When the locals overrun the bar most frequented by fraternities. There were beautiful women, in beautiful dresses, with a slight sheen on their skin from the humidity that the bar tried desperately to combat with large fans mounted on the walls. Nothing cuts the humidity in the south. Nothing. And there were men, in jeans and t-shirts, cowboy boots, and hippie sandals, drunkenly gazing at the women, looking for a way into their world.
There was Brian Scheltz, who, even if you've never met him, has a personal motto that you'll never forget: "I'm Brian Scheltz, I do what I want!" He hit on me early on, and finished off the night dancing with a beautiful, voluptuous woman in one hand, and a pitcher of beer all to himself in the other. Ever seen a bear (straight) dip a woman and kiss her passionately during the move? You should meet Brian Sheltz.
Then there was Brandon, a skinny boy that works at the local superstore, manages actually. You see, everyone in town has a weird feeling about Brandon. They figure he must be gay, but he keeps hitting on women. All I know for sure, is that the boy can dance, and there's not a woman on the dance floor that won't lovingly give him a moment of their time to shake hips and knock knees.
Of course, Riley, who had performed the ceremony at a wedding that hitched up two well loved locals, was dancing like a fool, with his dress shirt off and his very own pitcher of beer. Apparently, his final words in the wedding were, "And now, by the power invested in me from the internet, I now pronounce you man and wife." We danced. He instructed me to set down my wine so that we could dance like they do in the movies. It's hard to do that with a guy that can't quite see straight.
Everywhere I looked there was a picture to be taken, a moment to be captured. Students, teachers, locals, transplants, dancing and drinking together and raising a glass to the music with its roots in the deep red clay of the mountains. It was worth a bit of a sweat.
I finished my evening on the balcony of the new Chow at school, alone. The panorama from the west end of the drill field is breathtaking, even at night in the moonlight. I could see the silhouettes of the hills and mountains in the distance, against the deep purple of the night sky. A cool breeze hit me from the east, and I looked up at the moon to feel, all at once, terribly insignificant and incredibly imperative at the same time.
It smells like trees here. It smells like cut grass. And the people want you to find a reason to stay. And, sometimes, you do too.