At the moment, I’m sitting at around 15,000 words on my NaNo project. On Tuesday and Wednesday though, I didn’t write.
It was a motivation thing. I had the need to write, but we all get to that place in our projects where it feels like you’re paving mud instead of bricks. You just don’t feel confident about the work that you’re slapping down and it’s hard to make yourself work on something if you don’t feel confident about the stuff that you’re putting down. Everyone was telling me to push through the suck, like just by hearing the words I was going to be able to find that inner strength to Do The Thing.
As a contrary person who dislikes being told what to do, I procrastinated. Instead of noveling I focused on national and local events. I focused on the 2016 Elections.
I live in the state of Mississippi. It is one of the most misunderstood and joked about states in the USA. At least, when you’re living in Mississippi, that’s how it feels. It feels like you are always at the bottom of everything. Our education scores are low. In my town, only 2 of the public schools scored an average grade, a C. All the others scored D’s and F’s on their last review. We still struggle with illiteracy, a slow economy and a limit in opportunities. Our main breadwinners are usually men and our main caretakers are usually women. Traditional roles are the backbone for most visible successful families and values other parts of the country consider outdated are very much a litmus test for what makes a successful family.
The town I live in is service-oriented in most of it’s employment: Nurses, Doctors, Military staff from our little base. We’re full of servers and house cleaners. We have craftsmen and professors for our university. But the people that surround us make up the majority of the state’s population. They are the truck drivers, oil drillers, farmers, livestock managers and factory men and women. They are the people who bring America food, grow the food, find the fuel that lets the country run and the last of those who create American goods within the country’s borders.
They are deeply religious and hard working people who have been living in some version of the poverty scale for a long time and experience very little thanks for the work they do for the rest of the country. Yet they are also smart and kind; people who want to be friendly and to show courtesy. People who care, deeply, about the value of hospitality and good manners. People who watch one another closely to hold each other up to their values of their community and who, during disasters and crisis, reach out. Mississippians are proud and independent.
I often feel like a bit of an oddball where I live. I don’t have the same values, I don’t have the same interests as many of my neighbors and coworkers. I don’t have the same dreams. But I can’t help but be inspired by what I see around me. I even set my current project in a Deep South city because I wanted to show others the dichotomy of living a progressive and modern world view in a society that values different things.
Yet the last two days have struck me hard. The division that is in our country is so much more than just who was elected. It’s a division of values and focus. There are amazing and excellent people in the Urban zones, and by Urban I mean big cities, who have found community in focusing on education, accepting that not all families look a certain way and comforting themselves by vilifying those who live differently. Communities that do no rely upon the weather for their job, or who need to spend week and weeks away from home just to make ends meet. In the Urban zones, (of which I grew up in) you can go to the store and your things are nicely lined up. There isn’t as much a need to cook because you can find tons of restaurants at decent prices all around you. Eight years ago, those urban people reached out through their grassroots and called upon the people to rise up and help them make a change. And so the world did. And when it did it ignored and shucked off the things those rural people found important.
In 2008, I was on my way home from college with a cold and stopped at a restaurant for food when I saw my country elect it’s first black president. When they happened, I was so proud. Because here were were, making progress.
Yet here I sit, eight years later. A full-time and working home owner in a state that has seen very little help or progress from the change I wanted in the world as a college student. I see people who I work with and live near and exist harmoniously with presented as two-dimensional on all my media. I see the outrage of the LGBTQ community, of which I am apart, at anyone who reached out for the message that the candidate Trump had and paint them with one color: Hate.
“They Hate Us” is what I’ve heard. “This was an election based on Hate!”
Yet for years, all we have done is mock them. For years we have held up their beliefs and mingled in our message with scorn and disdain.
“It’s time to step out of the past,” we’ve cried as we fought for equal treatment. “It’s time to put away your bigotry and your close mindedness.”
But if, for the sake of example, I am a Mississippi woman who’s husband is an oil man and gone for weeks at a time, if I’m a mother, do you know who helps me? My church. My christian church who supports me and loves me. My God who I have been warned others will scorn and try to get me to turn against. If I’m that woman, I don’t see a group that is trying to give love a chance, I see the devil wrapped in the clothing of lies because that was what I would have been taught to guard against. Who is going to listen to the lies that a stranger is telling them when around them they are surrounded by voices protesting on their side. They are in a bubble of acceptance and ignore the message that the left is giving them in favor of standing by the people they know and trust.
And we, those people who voted in the change and who voted in the new updates never took a single moment to think of how to connect with the people we were changing. We dismissed them and put ourselves in a bubble to try and be ‘Safe’. We created echo chambers in the name of ‘Feeling Okay’ and ‘Protecting ourselves’.
I’m done with the safe places. I’m done with the echo chambers and done trying to use simple terms to explain and understand complex problems. I haven’t written in two days because I’ve been digesting and processing what this new development in the setting of my life is going to mean. I’m not going to stand for unacceptable behavior. If I see racism, I’ll call it out, but now I’m going to try and figure out how to do it in a way that actually changes the behavior instead of insults the person behaving. If I see sexism, I’m going to try and make the conversation. If I encounter bigotry, I will deal with it but that extends to both sides. That extends to my side as well as their side. Because at the end of the day, we’re all on the Same side. The side of the United States of America.
For the next two years, I’m going to be connected. I’m going to absorb and focus on what I can do without alienating those I need to stand beside me. Make no mistake, we need each other and we need to stand alongside one another. I’m going to keep writing as well. Because just like the soggy bit of my novel where everything seems a mistake, I have to keep living in the world that feels like a mistake. I have to move forward in both prose and life.
Thank you for being on this journey with me. Keep breathing and keep writing.