Winston-Salem, Day 2

There’s no alarm clock in the hotel room.  I think that’s weird.  I despise wake up calls.  I despise being awakened by a ringing telephone under any circumstance, but I needed to be able to get up early and get out and do things.  So I had to use my cell phone.  I think that might be ironic or something.  But I had plenty of ringtones that sounded like alarm clocks, or near enough.  I set it for bitch-please-early, knowing damn well I wouldn’t actually get up at that hour.  I got out of bed shortly before ate, got myself ready and grabbed breakfast and coffee.

It was ridiculously cold this morning.  It was supposed to be overcast and rainy all day, too, but that cleared up nicely.  By ten, it was still cold, but fuck it.  I wanted out, so I went out.

Like I said yesterday, I can just about see Salem Cemetery from my room.  So the short walk in the chilly, windy morning wasn’t all that bad.  The sun was peeking out by then.  It was more like fall than spring.  Which is fine by me.

The section of the cemetery I entered first is the Moravian congregation’s Gottesaker, or God’s Acre.  The uniformity of the graves looks very strange at first.  There are no decorative statues or carvings.  All of them are white granite blocks on top of concrete.  The layout of the place is strange, too; men on one side, in chronological order of death, women on the other side and children, with smaller granite blocks, in another section.  This, I read later, is a mirror of how the congregations are seated inside the church, and the uniformity is a reflection of the equality of death.  I like that last bit.  We aren’t equal when we’re living.  We’re all in different economic and social strata.  We deal in different levels of discrimination and privilege.  But when we die, we’re all just as dead.

I don’t normally notice things like Good Friday.  Today was hard not to notice.  In the cemetery, there were people scrubbing the stones and placing white lilies in front of the graves.  Soap and water scrubbing, not just brushing off dead leaves or whatever.  Another Moravian Easter tradition, as it turns out.  I like that, too.  I like the respect of it, the connection of the living to the dead and the past.

I saw a procession of men and boys carrying a large wooden cross.  They ended up in front of the church, the cross propped up against a tree, where the preacher gave a sermon.  I didn’t stop to listen.  I’d already caught them doing the whole rote call and response thing, which I hate.  Preacher says, “Blah la la fa la la la.”  Congregation says, “La da la blah fa.”  I find that formula disturbing.

Anyway, Salem Cemetery is very well kept.  Almost too well kept to be interesting, really.  Very few broken stones.  Very few so weathered as to be illegible.  One thing that struck me was the fact that a number of the statues had no hands.  This wasn’t the result of time or weather.  This was very deliberate-looking, shorn off at the wrists kind of thing.  A groundskeeper at City Cemetery once told me that the pillars were sometimes deliberately cut short if the descendent happened to be fairly young.  Maybe this mutilation had a similar purpose.  I saw one statue, hands in tact but no fingers on the outstretched hand.  I suppose this could have been an act of vandalism, but I’d rather not think that.

From the cemetery, I ended up in Old Salem, which was not nearly as interesting as I’d hoped.  Oh well.  But I did come back with hot cross buns and fudge.

So today’s journey got me thinking on matters of the spirit.  I’m an atheist.  It took me a long time of being a waffling agnostic to get to atheism, but when I came to the conclusion that there is no God/god, I was relieved.  Am I right?  Am I wrong?  I have no idea.  Guess I’ll deal with that when I die, but then I very much like the idea of Nirvana, the bliss of nothingness (although the thing that terrifies me most about death is the complete lack of sensory input and communication).  I think atheism is as much a faith as any theistic religion.  It’s still a belief in something for which there is no definitive proof.  I’ve always been spiritual, and my spirituality has always been cultivated through my creativity.

No wonder I’ve been so fucking miserable lately!  It’s not so much the job as it is the all-consuming nature of the job.  I can tolerate the job itself.  Some aspects of it are even fun.  I like research, figuring things out and fixing them.  But to work at it so hard that I can’t create and can’t maintain my spiritual and mental health is a problem.  I’m not going to be a slacker now just to try to achieve balance again, but it’s tempting.  No, I’ll still be working my ass off, but I’d love to just be doing the jobs of two people instead of four.

I’ve also been having this thought about why I like old cemeteries so much: there is nothing more peaceful and freeing than the isolation of being the only living (human) thing in a graveyard.  Isolation as a positive thing, a healthy spiritual thing.  There’s good reason for being a loner, not just that I hate most people.

On a different note, it’s been just over four months since my grandfather passed away.  I’ve had two dreams in the last week or so in which he was alive.  In the first, he was the way I remember him when I was a kid.  In the second, he wasn’t.  Neither dream was pleasant.  I miss him.  I need to stop waiting for that to go away.  Just another thought that was drifting through my head today.

Poetry workshop tomorrow.  I shouldn’t be nervous, but I am.

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