A REAL Southerner Speaks Up…

My family had slaves.  There is no point in me lying about that.  Some of my family members owned other human beings.  Some were too poor to do so.  But some were dabbling on the fringes of wealth and they had enough to have some slaves.

During the Civil War, my male relatives did fight.  Including a 13-year-old boy.  And a 63-year-old man.  They both died in the same battle.  This was toward the end of the war when young boys and old men were threatened if they did not fight.  I found this record in the Georgia archives, almost by accident.  I worked at the University of Georgia Main Library while a student there.   I looked up my last name on a whim, expecting to find nothing.

The family members that were too poor were probably aspirational and wanted slaves because that was how you obtained social capital in the South.  That was how you ensured your sons and daughters could marry better.  That is how you got a say in the community and how you moved forward.  None of that makes it right.

A free labor class meant that wages were unnaturally depressed for the free poor of any color.  An element of the antebellum era that no one seems to want to address when they wax romantic over large gowns and supposedly dashing young men is that the poor were kept poor by the economic downward pressure on wages, and the wealthy had little to do with them and kept mostly to themselves.

I don’t understand why people justify the war.  I don’t know why people justify the South as it was.

I’ve had the same argument approximately 10 bajillion times.  I want to say what I want to say and for it to be final.  For once.

If you are saying, “The war was over state’s rights” – let me direct you to the various state documents specifying slavery as a cause for the existence of the war.  Let me also clue you in to the speech Alexander Stephens made in Savannah.  This is called the “Cornerstone Speech” and was given in 1861.  Wikipedia that shit.  Go ahead.

Usually what comes next is, “Well, they lived in a different time.” Well, no.  Some individuals from before and during the time of the Revolutionary War questioned and even bristled at the notions of the institution of slavery in the South.  This was a subject that was discussed then and on into the 1800’s.

After this, there is, “Slavery has been a part of history forever.”  Exactly how does that make my ancestor’s use of it valid or moral?  It doesn’t.

After this, it is, “Look at how Irish people got treated up north.”  Yes, that was awful.  I agree. But that doesn’t make what my ancestors did magically okay.

After that, I hear, “Well, Lincoln didn’t want to free the slaves and they didn’t want them up north either.”  SO?   That still doesn’t make slavery okay.  That does not erase what my ancestors participated in.

Then it’s, “The Africans sold them to us.”  That doesn’t mean that white people had a right to create demand or to take a boat across a dangerous ocean and fill it with people.

Why is it always the same?  Why these same arguments again and again and again?  Why do they need to be made, voiced, brought up, even when the issue is only tangentially related?

“That statue really could–”

“Lincoln!!”

“But I mean, I’m saying that maybe we should consider-”

“Irish people!”

“Yes, that’s true, but I’m just saying that in order to move forward and be economically viable–”

“African slave traders!”

Why?  What does this argument do for people?  Why do this dance every single damn time?

I, for one, have no problem with saying that some of my ancestors were assholes.  Assholes aspiring toward wealth and status through human ownership even as the rest of the world was moving forward toward a greater conscience in terms of their fellow man.  I don’t know why the rest of the south has a problem with saying that.  I don’t.  The people who lived in 1865 would be strangers to me.  They would have no connection with me.  They wouldn’t understand half the words I use.  The uneducated ones wouldn’t be able to function in our society now.  We live in a society that presupposes that you can read and write, and use electronic objects.  What has a dead relative that I have never met done for me?  What did he or she ever do that affected me?

Does anyone look at their family now and think they are all perfect?  Do you go around defending the shitty actions of the ones that aren’t?  I don’t.  I realized a long time ago that it was an abuse of my mind and a waste of my time to do so.   Jumping through the hoops was causing too much emotional and psychological turmoil.  I was having to gaslight myself in order to make that happen.  Shitty people are just shitty people and it is okay to say so.

I’m not the greatly ballyhooed internet Social Justice Warrior. Even though I grew up with not much, I do understand the reality of white privilege. I don’t deny its existence, and I have seen what it can do.

I just want everyone to stop explaining the South.  To stop defending the antebellum South.  Especially those who 1- don’t live here or who 2- never had family here during that era.

The South was always a mixed area.  Native Americans, Hispanics from locations south, French, English, Scots, Irish, Jewish, free blacks and slaves intermingled, and, of course, had sex and had children.  The Jewish part of the Southern heritage clashes loudly with the current Midwest Aryan wannabes, but it is a fact.  Judah Benjamin was a high-ranking confederate.  Jewish people have been here since before the Revolutionary war.  In my own town, Asian people have been a part of the tapestry since the railroad was built in the early 1800’s.

The Confederates also ran after the war, if they had money.  No one talks about that part.  After the war, the wealthy individuals that could flee, did.  They ran to Havana, Brazil, and some made their way to Europe.

The fact is, the wealthy planter class always had far more in common with other wealthy people than they ever did the poor whites around them.  That was true both before and after the war.

I’m a human being, with a real Southern story.  I’m not a kid from Ohio who came down here.  In fact, I wish you all would keep your asses at home.  If we want to take down a damn monument that you never gave a shit about before three days ago, let us take it down.

History doesn’t disappear when you move an object from one spot to another.

And while we are at it, on the topic of Free Speech:

You can say whatever you want on a street corner.  I’ve seen itinerant preachers do it.  Go ahead.  But you need to keep in mind that you don’t speak for everyone.  And for God sakes, keep your ass away from me.  Because I am a real person from the South.  My family did own slaves.  And I want nothing to do with any of your shit.  We seemed to be getting along just fine without you.

The measure of true bravery and character is if you can say what it is you wish to say without a group of people standing behind you.

Frustration and waiting

I stopped myself from voluntarily going to the office today.  To make sure that everything was okay. To make sure other people did their job.

I slept a lot all weekend.  I tend to escape, to run and hide into the sacred space of sleep.

Hiding from work, the news, life.

I’ve run before.  Run away from home. And now I live here, wondering if I’ll make it out alive.

And now I live here, wondering if I’ll make it out alive. Wondering if fate will allow it.

I live here, in the heat and greenhouse feel of the rain sweeping down to the river and the subtropical air full of pollen and weight.  I wonder if I should go somewhere cooler, warmer.  I wonder how I will if I do, the costs mounting up in my all-too-logical-head, mentally converging to add estimates.

I think of the times when moving was dangling by a thread before…  men who asked me to move for my own good, me recoiling at their lack of courage.

I think of the luxury some have, roaming from place to place, funded by wealthier backgrounds, until they determine where they really want to settle down.

I think of the yard work today, how the air felt like a sauna and left me breathless from potting plants and taming those outlandish rose vines.

They don’t bloom.  They grow endlessly.

I think of the dream I had last night about snakes in my yard, the enormous- and real- black widow in the flower pot today.  Biggest one I have seen.

I look for that magic job that doesn’t exist that will pay me enough so that I can justify leaving or save up to do so.  I think about the mortgage, the cats, the yard. The fucking impossible yard.  I see myself running against the wall.

I think about doing less.  The feeling I do too much.

I remember that we were once migratory creatures, too.

I think of things to do.  I don’t do them. Holding myself back.  For what? For what?  I ask myself again and again.  What would it hurt to try…?

I look at a bill, mysteriously increased by 10 dollars… they changed my plan without telling me.  Knowing it will require a 2-hour conversation to fix, a conversation that must be during business hours between 9 and 5 Monday through Friday when I am working.  We value our customers, they say.

I hang here in limbo. Waiting for something crucial to happen.  Something definite.  Something absolute.

I hide my doubts.  I feel my way through it.  Stare at this diploma, sitting on my mantel.  I think about becoming a teacher just so I can have summers off. I have no illusions about impressing wisdom upon young minds.

I think about becoming a teacher just so I can have summers off. I have no illusions about impressing wisdom upon young minds.

I think about how tired I still feel.  3 days of almost nothing but rest and I still feel exhausted.  Beat up.  Worn out. Physically drained from a desk job where I have allowed myself to become too reliable, too much of a fixture.

I visit job websites and company websites and look again.

I think of things I could do on the side and still don’t do them.  I don’t know where I’d find the effort.  I’m running out of effort to give.  But I keep showing up and doing what is bid of me and more because I can’t stand the half-measures others throw out there and shrug.

I think about starting all over again.  What would it do for my retirement?  I’m not 22 anymore. Think about my vacation time that I take in droplets, unable to trust others to do the job?

Think about my vacation time that I take in droplets, unable to trust others to do the job.

I give up, buy a plant, a mascara, a nail polish, a t-shirt. A toy for the cats.  Just to get out of the house and pretend involvement in the world around me.   A play that I act out for five or ten bucks.  I feel no pull toward the club, the bar, the other bar, the cool new restaurant.  I go to places the old folks go, past their prime and coolness, refusing to wait in line for a table, forever for a beer.

I hate the patterns I see. The same kinds of people, different skin, hair.  Like a movie trope repeated over and over.  I wonder if any of them are any more complex.

I look at the news and fill with rage, despair, or just disappointment that things are going about as I expected.

I might comment on an article.  I might not.  I might get trolled by someone even more bored than I am.  I might not.  If I cared, it might matter what they said.  The names, the implied superiority, and assumed yelling.

I read some article on organizing my house, avoiding these foods, bad signs you should look for in your job/relationship/friendships/family.  Skim them as if they held meaning or advice for real humans here on Earth.

I wait on the fall.  The crisp air of change.  Hoping it will bring with it something new.  Hoping for a shift.  Hoping the shift will find me, when it happens.

Rambling about Escapism

Is our culture too invested in escapism?

We have TV everywhere and Netflix and video games and phones.

We are connected all the time.

We can have 650 “Friends” on Facebook and never have met any of them at all in real life.

We binge watch whole seasons of shows on weekends.

We have IMAX theaters where were can fully immerse ourselves in the story.  I remember my first experience with IMAX.  I was in Texas and it was this history film somewhere near the Alamo.  I wasn’t at all sure what I thought about it.  I’m still not sure.

Are we leaving reality behind too much?  Are we escaping so much that we fail to face the blunt force trauma of our own reality?

Do we need to unplug and relish the harshness of life’s cruel bends and clearly face them and solve them, or let them beat us down if that is what Fate has determined must happen?

In all the connectivity, do we grow?  Do we grow in the ways we should grow?  Do we absorb too much the tied-up-in-a-bow tropes and predictable storylines, expecting one day, that things will just “work out” for us, without applying any elbow grease?

Do we live in a world in our head that is almost reality- but not quite, because reality can suck and we don’t want to be there?  Do we let our problems sit, unsolved, unaddressed, un-felt?

Are we stopping ourselves from accepting uncomfortable truths about the lives we live and instead zoning out into something we find pleasant in order to hide?  Do we use these things to abdicate our own responsibility for our choices?

Is it fair to ourselves to hide from a rude or harsh thing that fate has dealt us, if indeed that is the case?  It is better to fall in and embrace the darkness of that fate, rather than create for ourselves a distraction?

I’ve found myself pointlessly watching “The Golden Girls” of late.  While I do laugh occasionally, I sit and wonder to myself at the plotlines.  Am I to believe that women in this age bracket are having relationship and friendship problems that a 14-year-old could clear up for them?  Or even a person much younger?

So why keep watching?  Is there a point?

Why do we watch things just to watch them?  Just to have the noise in the house, the pretend familiarity and warmth?  The illusion of people that are ultimately always safe and who never could actually do any harm to us?

None of us knows how to live a life.  Some of us flounder around trying.  Always attempting to figure it out.  Some people really try.  Some people never seem to care much, and come into this world sitting on a stump with a motionless face and go out the same way.  TV never seems to help much.  Unless you happen to run into some situation involving a comic misunderstanding with characters who only have a few dimensions.

That is where TV also gets us:

We think of people incorrectly, and people portray themselves almost as caricatures. Only a list of qualities based on stock roles.  We lose our complexity.  We fail to see the complexity in others.  We sell ourselves short on experiences and possibilities because of what we believe is fitting for us and who we determine we are.   We define ourselves by music preference and subculture and religion (sometimes as all three at once—as I mentioned in the previous post, everyone I meet thinks that because I am white I am also Christian, Republican, and listen to country music a lot.)

Some people may only be three things.  Maybe they aren’t multi-dimensional.  But maybe it’s because they never gave themselves the chance to be, creating walls of what must be, walls that would never let them change the dial from the country music station to the college amateur DJ hour.

Some of us fools do reach up and twist the knob.

Some of us do eventually turn off the TV and listen to the quiet and cry about our lives and thank our lucky stars for the good things while wondering still why we got passed over for some, and know that living our best lives means we may not ever have everything, but we give it a damn good try as much as we can.  Some of us do hit every station in the market.  Read books on the gods of every religion, and try dancing to alien beats. Some of us grab different wine bottles every time we are in the store just to see how different they taste.  We try the funny-looking appetizers and new fusion cuisine just to give it a shot.  We go to a restaurant without anyone having recommended it to us or looking up reviews, because, if it’s awful, at least we’ll have a story to tell.

Some of us fools allow ourselves to feel out of step with our surroundings.  To feel the discomfort. To realize that some things were our fault, but some things were dumb luck and out of our control.  That trope that hurts the most—the inability to make the magic-30-minute-resolution happen because you did the right things.

At the end, we, the oddballs, drink our totally random wine, sit outside on the steps and hope that maybe somehow, we are gaining wisdom in all our folly.   That we will have enough of wisdom to really feel different one day, but perhaps, that is an illusion too.

The fictional idea I find affects me the most is the “getting it right” idea.  The idea that we will cross a finish line and not make any further bad choices, mistakes, never have a thought come out of our mouth holding the wrong words… that we will somehow one day get everything right.  Our job will never disappear and our stock picks will only go up and we won’t forget we left something in the oven ever again.   Our skin cream will be affordable and eliminate pimples and wrinkles, all our plants will bloom and we will eat a proper diet and somehow extend the daylight hours in a manner that allows us to do it all and tie each day up neat and complete.

Even though I know is absurd, it affects me.  Something about the idea managed to wriggle its way into my brain, past all the TV and movie absurdities about love and heroics and success. This is the part that got through. Getting my choices right.  Staying on top of everything.  Although I know that no one keeps all the plates in the air all the time… I still think sometimes…. That if I could… I would break through to something else.

But there is nothing else.  This is my life.  And I’m living it.  This is it.  All there is.

None of us has the faintest clue what we are doing.

Circling the Bowl

Why do people argue the unresolvable?

Why?

Why can’t people admit that they are on different ground rather the same and just be okay with it?

I’m talking specifically about the arguments I observe (as opposed to participate in) over religion.   People push one set of values presented in a religion over another and the comment thread or discussion goes on and on and no resolution is ever reached, just endless cycles of blah-de-blah-blah about what someone should believe but it also says this other thing that another person thinks is “more equal” in the religious viewpoint.  You aren’t a REAL  (insert religion here) unless you believe THIS.  Then someone else chimes in and

People push one set of values presented in a religion over another and the comment thread or discussion goes on and on and no resolution is ever reached, just endless cycles of blah-de-blah-blah about what someone should believe but it also says this other thing that another person thinks is “more equal” in the religious viewpoint.

Maybe you aren’t the same religion after all.   Why is that hard to accept about one another rather than arguing a theological debate? Why do you feel an obligation to justify yourselves to one another?

Why?  Why spend time on it?

There are people who are in love with religion for its ability to bring judgment. There are people who are in love with religion because it might bring order to the universe, they tend to like having rules dictated to them, even if those rules hurt them personally.  There are people who are in love with religion because they think of it in a lovey-happy way– people who espouse the ideas of mercy and forgiveness and ideal, eternal love.

These people are different people.  They believe different things.  No matter what religion you are in, these people are going to have a different set of beliefs.  If they had been raised in a different culture, the temperature of their religious belief would largely be unchanged. They are, in a way, worshipping something inherently different within the religion, and will find a different set of outcomes rewarding to their sense of spirituality.  You can argue each other’s wrongness into the ground or next Tuesday but it won’t actually change anyone’s mind and it won’t matter to them.  They will keep justifying whatever it is to themselves anyway.
I vote everyone stops.
I am going to suggest a new tactic for comment sections and family reunions the world over.

Stop.  Just stop.  Put a stop to wasting your precious time and frazzling your mind over it and finding justifications for this beleif and that one.
Regardless of what religion you participate in, how different would your life be, if—
Instead of saying “Yes, I believe this, but my interpretation…” or “What that really means in the original language is.. “ – what if, instead you just looked someone in the eye and casually said,

“Yeah.  No.  I don’t believe that part.  I believe parts X-Y.  Can you pass the Ketchup?”

Can you imagine the reaction if you chose to opt out of the discussion instead of launching into a black hole of endless unresolved debate on your opinions of theology or the verb endings of languages you have never personally studied?   Wouldn’t that make life BETTER?  Just to stop?

Wouldn’t it be better not to discuss what a REEAAAALLLY REAL  (fill in the blank) believes?
Why can’t that be the answer?  Why shouldn’t it be?

You don’t owe anyone an explanation for your thought processes.  Not a single person.  They don’t owe you an explanation for theirs.  The problem is the endless justifying and verse-grabbing and historical veracity ad nauseum, because it is eating up precious seconds of your life without an end in sight.

You can pick and choose what you want to believe.  You can tell people to screw off if they don’t like it.  But that requires you owning what you actually believe.  You have to stop saying, “I know its wrong  buuuuuuuutttttt…. ” and just own that you don’t actually believe that bit of something.  It requires you to stop finding some vague verb tense only 3% of people majoring in dead and nearly -dead languages to determine what it “really means”.   It requires you to say, “I believe in the ten commandments, but I gotta tell you, I think the beatitudes are hogwash.  That hippie love crap is just annoying.”  Or the reverse.  Whatever is true for you. Own your current reality based on your actual life.

I’m telling you- go ahead.  It’s okay.  I don’t care if you do.  But you all need to start owning where you are and being honest with yourself. All you are doing otherwise is spending giant chunks of your life arguing over something you can’t resolve.  Who on earth would ever want to do that?  Why?

And who are you trying so hard to convince with that smidgen of information or vehement insistence?   Yourself?  If you have to fight that hard to justify something, no matter what it is, that’s usually a sign of a problem.

Is it hard to own your own mind?

Are we scared to know that instead of a few value systems there are infinite value systems, one per person, and we cannot legislate the mind?
Try it.  I dare you, religious peeps of various types—when someone gets all whatever and starts telling you what you believe,  what this book says or that, respond with, “Yeah, I don’t believe that part.”  even if you do. Take a look at their reaction.  Savor the moment you decided other people’s demands on your spirituality no longer were a thing for you.
What if, the next time someone tells you that you aren’t a “real (fill in the blank),” instead of getting angry or self-defensive– you just say, “yeah, I know” very nonchalantly and punctuate it by walking off to buy ice cream?

Endless debates on where the emphasis in religions should fall are a waste of your precious years on this earth. Time you can NEVER GET BACK. EVER.  When the time is gone, it is GONE.  GONE GONE.  Time you could have spent watching the sunset.  Remembering the names of the constellations overhead.  Feeling a summer breeze. Making snowmen.

Life is short.  Too short.  Don’t waste it debating the unresolvable just because you think you must.   Definitely, don’t do it because some clown is demanding answers out of you.  Your life isn’t about everyone’ else’s opinion.  It’s far too short to be.