The Banal and the Profane: Megan Milks
Author: William Johnson
April 24, 2014
“I’m currently living in a small town in central Illinois, finishing up the second year of a visiting teaching gig at a small liberal arts college. I moved here from Chicago, where I had everyday access to queer community. Things are much different now.”
“The Banal and the Profane” is a monthly Lambda Literary column in which we lift the veil on both the writerly life and the publishing industry. In each installment, we ask a different LGBT writer, or LGBT person of interest in the book industry, to guide us through a week in their lives.
This month’s “Banal and Profane” column comes to us from writer Megan Milks.
Megan Milks is the author of the collection Kill Marguerite and Other Stories (Emergency Press, 2014) and co-editor of Asexualities: Feminist and Queer Perspectives (Routledge, 2014). Her fiction has been published in three anthologies of short fiction as well as many journals. She is currently editing The &NOW Awards, Volume 3: The Best Innovative Writing, 2011-2013.
Monday, March 24
Today I’m leaving, again. I’ve been traveling too much this year, and time is sprawling out in strange ways. It’s difficult to believe it was just last month I was headed West for my first campus interview. So much has happened since. I have: experienced rejection with that job and many others; been to South Texas, Seattle, and Chicago; landed my car in a snowbank; gone through a break-up; had two books published; a bunch more interviews; no offers (yet?).
All in a month, folks. I’m tired.
Tonight I’m in Saint Louis, sleeping on Cynthia and Stef’s couch, ahead of leaving for New Orleans in the morning for another interview.
This morning I reread “Tristes Tropiques,” the first essay in Hilton Als’ White Girls, because it makes me want to write. It’s an essay about twinning, about twinship, about the confusion of boundaries in the context of 80s/90s NYC. Reading it, I twin with the text, identifying and disidentifying at each turn. I’m a white girl, question mark after girl. I absorb the essay’s nostalgic turn, its melancholy, its grief. I feel my own loss for the city, and for community. I’m currently living in a small town in central Illinois, finishing up the second year of a visiting teaching gig at a small liberal arts college. I moved here from Chicago, where I had everyday access to queer community. Things are much different now.
During the two-hour drive to Saint Louis I listen to Against Me!’s new album on repeat. It is the best music I have ever heard. This afternoon I taught as usual, then went home to finish packing and call Sarah Schulman (nbd) about an email round-table I’m organizing on trigger warnings in literary spaces. I’m trying to whip up this round-table swiftly in response to all that is flying around on the Internet but it’s tough to do before/during travel. We will start the conversation on Thursday
I arrive later than expected, after getting twisted around in the city like always. Cynthia and I head to a restaurant called Taste, where I order brick chicken and kale, two cocktails. Our conversation spans Girls, the lamentably bad Sweet Valley Twins television show, our mutual strong dislike of Wes Anderson’s homosocial not-gay utopias. Throughout, we vent about the job market. The hunt for an academic job is excruciating and relentless. We have a running joke about the lighthouses at the end of Bioshock: Infinite, which are a fitting analogy for our uncertain futures. There are so many lighthouses, but they’re all the same lighthouse. Which lighthouse will it be? We won’t know until we know. Maybe my lighthouse is walking dogs in Chicago next year, which could actually be great.
Tuesday, March 25
On the ground in St. Louis International Airport. I’ve got my Chronicle of Higher Education and my egg sandwich and coffee. I feel fine. I like this airport. The bathroom stall doors open outward, much easier to maneuver luggage into and out of, and the departure drop-off has slanted parking spots—just say no to double parking!
The descent into New Orleans is breathtaking. From above, the causeway across Lake Pontchartrain looks like a misshapen geometry diagram: This is what diameter is. I can’t believe a bridge like this exists. Imagine a bridge across Lake Michigan! I will describe to Cynthia later. Or the ocean! In fact, Lake Pontchartrain is an nth of the size of Lake Michigan, but from above it looks like an eyeball from another world.
This will be my first time in New Orleans, though southern Louisiana has been alive in my mind thanks to HBO’s True Detective and Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial, which I’ve been reading slowly over the last few months. I’ve never been to the region, but I did live in northern Louisiana briefly when I was three—in fact, two of my earliest memories took place there, if they actually happened. The first memory is an image of my older brother surfacing in the backyard swimming pool with a skinny black snake slithering up his back. The second involves me standing nervously at the front door before a group of people who had come over to eat my birthday cake. I remember this second experience with nightmarish distortions, these people looming over me, backlit by a cruel sun. But I think they were children, too.
At dinner, I enjoy boudin balls, blackened redfish, and fried okra. Then home to an apartment suite at a bed and breakfast: not bad! I love southern excess. My bed is stacked with eleven pillows. I push all but one to the floor.
Wednesday, March 26
Up at 5:30 AM to prep for the visit, which will be a test of endurance, for sure. I make coffee and look over my job talk and the student story I’m workshopping. I go through my stack of interview questions written out on index cards. I take a shower, get dressed. Throw on my blazer and my exciting good shoes. Can’t get my hair quite right, but fine. Let’s do this.
After the interview, I am treated to a walking tour of the French Quarter. The French Quarter is French! The balconies and floor-length windows. The
beignets. Bourbon Street is, well. I get the picture. At dinner, I enjoy another decadent meal.
I’ve asked around on Twitter for queer bar recommendations, but by the time I get to the airport hotel it’s 9:30 pm, I’m zonked, and my flight’s in ten hours. Regrettably, I do not enjoy a night out in New Orleans. I consider watching Nymphomaniac to have something “profane” to bring to this column, but the idea of watching beautiful straight people having sex seems frankly awful in this raw new-single state. Instead I watch half an episode of Xena the Warrior Princess, miss my partner who is no longer my partner, konk out.
Thursday, March, 27
Louis Armstrong International Airport, early morning. While waiting to board, I hold court at a bar counter that’s not yet open and draft the opening round of questions to send to the roundtable on trigger warnings. I work on this for far too long and almost miss my flight. Okay, I exaggerate. But there was a fast-beating heart.
The flight is smooth. I spend most of it reading the first book in Scott Westerfield’s The Uglies series: easy plane reading. I am hit with a pang of regret over having deleted Candy Crush Saga from my phone, as it was such a friend to me on my last trip. But know it was a wise choice in the end.
Back in Saint Louis, Cynthia picks me up and we grab lunch at a vegan-friendly restaurant. I am thoroughly constipated from the Louisianan decadence and look forward to a light and healthy meal. It is good. Cynthia and I process the interview and our respective relationships. It is good.
When I get home after the two-hour drive, I take Ex-Lax and groan. Unlike my bowels, the conversation on trigger warnings has been active and fast-moving all day: exciting! I am too tired to really respond, but it is my duty. I send out a short note.
My cats are clingy because I have been gone a few nights. I keep rejecting Elliott as he wants to lie between my arms while I type. Poor Elliott. We will have couch time soon when I watch television. I comfort him.
Friday, March 28
Slow round of morning grading followed by two classes. In my journalism class we are workshopping longform essays. I’m still bleary from traveling but muster up as much teacherly enthusiasm as I can. It’s not hard because my students are writing great stuff.
After class, I go grocery shopping at Walmart, feel depressed at the fact of Walmart, wander around despondent, toss items bitterly into my cart. I finish Uglies and make pizza loaded with vegetables. I decide I owe it to my cats to sit on the couch with them for a long time, so I watch three episodes of The Bridge, a TV show recommended to me by one of my hosts this week. It’s a procedural drama with a horrible-sounding premise—a dead body is left on the US-Mexico border and turns out to be two bodies, the top half an American woman, the bottom half a Mexican woman (of course women, always women)—but the show uses it to dig into border tensions in interesting and unpredictable ways. I need to zone out after the week: I am blurry inside from so much socializing, and my middle is tender and swollen, from PMS and rich food. I feel disgusting. In bed by 10.
Saturday, March 29
Feeling blue; missing J. I clean out the litter box then head to the gym, where I kill the elliptical machine listening to the Gossip. Just because our breakup is mutual and amicable doesn’t mean I don’t get to seethe and self-validate while pretending to be Beth Ditto and Hannah Billie at the same time.
I start in on responses to questions from Anne Yoder, who’s interviewing me for Newcity Lit. She has sent me happy, fun questions on genre fiction, adolescence, and alternative girlhoods; I type away, happy. Then head to dinner with two colleagues at a restaurant in the town square. We have a fine time. I drink wine.
This morning I started reading Mia McKenzie’s The Summer We Got Free and I am absorbed. When I get home from dinner, all I want to do is read, but instead I watch four more episodes of The Bridge. I don’t know why. Having recently been in south Texas, I am hungry for footage of the region? It is both compelling and easy to watch halfway while also catching up on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter and spending quality time with my cats? Eventually I shame myself into opening up the new story I’m working on. I read it, read it, tap a few keys. Then I’m writing.
Sunday, March 30
Have done very little all day but mood about and read The Summer We Got Free, which has drawn me in so fully it has disrupted my work day. Darn you, Mia McKenzie, for writing such compelling characters!
I go for a bike ride to clear my head. While I miss commuter biking in the city, there’s something to be said for biking recreationally here. It’s a ten-minute ride to fields and farmhouses; few vehicles, no stoplights. I bike for a long time.
Back at home, Leeyanne calls and we share our weeks. I always feel riled up talking to Leeyanne, who writes something like 5k a day: riled up in the best way, I mean, my competitive horns out, wanting to pace around, head lowered, ready to charge into the work. After getting off the phone, I write for an hour, do some reading related to this new story I’m working on. Then make salmon cakes, asparagus, some lumpy pretzel rolls, and finish reading The Summer We Got Free. When the story ends, I cry. Oh! A wonderful ending.
Now that the story is over, I can finally enter productivity mode. I send a second round of questions to the round-table. I finish responding to Anne’s interview questions, send them back, write some emails, work a bit on a collaborative essay on slash fiction, send it to Vicky. I read some submissions for The &NOW Awards 3, which I’m editing, then make a detailed List of Things to Do for tomorrow and Weekly Plans for the upcoming week, rework my Monthly Plans chart, send more emails, work on this and that, hit the sack long after I should.