The only way for me to talk myself into moving was to consider the whole experience fieldwork. Even with this perspective, the move has already taken some suggestive and distracting turns away from my work. Altork suggests that only by acknowledging the full-bodied sensory overload we feel when we encounter our field site will we be able to fully engage and absorb the community and the physical surroundings. I do not think she implies that I fuck my next door neighbor, and I certainly can’t picture a montage of anthropologists in their respective field sites rubbing their genitals against trees and neatly folding leaves into their crevices before stopping to write diligently in their field books about their experiences. (Or maybe she does, and maybe I can.) But it needs to be said that since getting here everything seems a little bit more sensuous and sensual than anywhere else I’ve been. And I’m coming from San Francisco. I think it’s the work of all this heat and humidity. All the sweat, and reddened, engorged parts, and rubbing limbs, and saltiness, and the eventual hunger that strikes once the temperature hits its crescendo and the throbbing retreats into the night . . . The desire to rip off all my clothes and succumb, ravaged by a radiating energy over which I have no control, and the subsequent chill I feel once it ends. I think this swamp breeds sex. Everybody looks like they want sex, and everybody looks like they just had some fantastic, dirty and unapologetic variety of it. As someone who “works in the sciences” I know I should be able to tell you all about the physical components of tropical environments breeding new bacteria and fungi, but my recently relocated, Yankee-born body is undergoing its own experiments outside the control environment, and I’d much rather find a partner on which to demonstrate the more social elements of the setting. I try to turn to my work, but then I feel like Malinowski, simultaneously revolted and yet swelling, primitively, at the strange new situation in which I find myself . . .
The summer heat wanes, as does my intense preoccupation with sweaty connections, intoxicating scents and lethargic, stuffed shells of people. I retire, pregnant with the residual effects of such a flesh-oriented atmosphere, and hopeful that this new, uncomfortable gestation will take its turn more expeditiously than its precursor. Though the heat is gone I lumber, thickly disoriented, through days that have little articulated meaning and nights that are cursed with wanderlust and penny-pinched socialization. Already, at twenty-nine, I am learning the march of a middle-aged mother, and I am angry. This all seems to be happening too quickly and simply too soon, and I remain hyper-stimulated despite the change in atmosphere. I am struggling to reconcile the fact that despite my neglected cravings I am no longer able to button my pants as comfortably as only eight weeks ago. I suppose in that respect my insatiability was transferred to something that requires less pre-coital prep and more kitchen prep (which, I have to admit, has really only consisted of ripping caps off prêt-a-manger containers and drinks. And maybe more drink than nutritional sustenance, but that part of the south I internalized with ease). This new stimulation is bland, colorless, and room-temperature and, though the symptoms of late summer are gone, I acutely remember the sickness and my stomach turns with every fleeting thought about missed opportunities and failed attempts at embracing my self-slated challenge to fully encounter my new place. I am considering switching my focus to the geography of food and forgetting the people part altogether. I also returned all of Malinowski’s field diaries. I am now onto Evans-Pritchard and his wearied, sterile—and successfully “objective” to none other than himself, I might add—language.
Treading in the shoes of a beautiful woman as I turn away. Every pair blisters somewhere, and the wounds on my toes are minuscule compared to those on the rest of me. No better time than the present to close out an experiment, whether or not I was done collecting the data. Still unsatisfied, I am ready for a new project. I return to my roots; I wrap myself into the security blanket of my car and drive like hell out of a place that teased me and released me with the ease of a distant lover. Emptied, in Austin, I tattoo myself and have a snack. I contemplate the stages of immersion and review my preliminary observations (or are they my methodologies?): sex, consumption, abandonment. Neat and tidy, these are reportable data sets. What I do not yet know is whether this track runs linear or cyclical, and despite my better judgment I begin to fantasize about what next season will bring. Rejuvenated, and warm in the seal and crest of New England that is my favorite sweater vest, I drive ten miles below the speed limit and watch the steam rising from the swamp to hug a half-illuminated moon (slung low in the sky that night, and bottom-heavy, just like me).