An Intersection

“It’s a big thing that’s present in the white liberal community. That, ‘I’m talking about it so I’m doing something.’ No, you’re just talking about it. And you’re talking about it usually to other white liberals. You’re not really doing anything here. Talking is not action. Don’t just look at what you say. Look at how you socialize. What is your work environment? What do you actually do to help legislation along to protect people who are in a more compromised position than you are?” —Brett Gelman
Sitting here with my coffee, reading just the headlines, the intersection of thought is hazy as so many crossroads enter the fold. Everything is terrible, in-fighting is heavy on both sides of the division line, yet somehow we’re still getting by. Smoldering ash rising from the fire of a better yesteryear hasn’t completely blocked out the sun. Yeah, morale is down but apparently the market is up — though that isn’t particularly good news for me, having not had the foresight to structure my life in a way that would lead me to have a stake in such a game. But it’s good news for many who, I assume, probably already have plenty of reasons to celebrate. They’ve got rising returns, we’ve got neighbors we might never fully understand, even if we actually tried.

Something felt so wrong about what was happening when the power changed hands. But then, what followed was confirmation of why: we’re to understand that something wrong had already taken place, this was the reaction that we couldn’t see coming, us trapped in our bubbles within this new era of segregation. If this is on us now, what are we to do? Judge, condemn, fight? Donate, protest, volunteer? Take action? Get to work? The dumpster fire disappears when you close your eyes, but from it you can still feel the heat.
“I think you’re doomed if you start trying to present yourself as anything more than someone that’s trying to do the right thing. I think that people who put themselves up on a pedestal of integrity and moral high ground are making a huge mistake, especially when it comes to music and art. It doesn’t leave a whole hell of a lot of room to indulge all the shit in your head. It doesn’t leave a whole hell of a lot of room to write. I think that there are plenty of people who have gotten trapped into that mode in music, even, and in rap, who can’t find their way out of it, who felt like they had something important to say but also forgot that they had something that wasn’t important to say… I think that one of the ways that we all fuck ourselves is by demanding that not only do people do the right thing, but they also act the right way or say the right thing all the time. I think that that’s false. Victories are won by embracing the fact that the filth and the dirt and the humor of goodness are just as valid as the pretense and the proper sort of intellectual mind frame.” —El-P
Every day I see the face of the person I’ll be spending the rest of my life with, and every day something reminds me of the wreckage of my past. I’ve done well to rearrange the furniture and the setting that exists now is presentable. But that isn’t for one moment to act like the image of what exists would survive any sort of thorough investigation. There’s plenty of filth and dirt that I’ve merely swept under the rug. Even then, my hall-of-mirrors memory grants a certain level of hubris with regard to where all this is going; none of us were informed enough before, but I’ve corrected this for myself. I get it now. If hindsight were a disease, sometimes I feel my sickness would be terminal.

My Town

What’s to make of the city as its population continues to change, the transplants quickly outweighing the natives, yesterday’s vision being resurfaced by an incoming freshman class of civilian? In that pocket of confusion, the circumstances of this city’s facelift served as a fine excuse to guard myself from committing to whatever any of this really is.

There’s a division that was created in my head several years ago, with one of my more prominent internal voices arguing that Nashville is a city divided, and I was on the lesser side of whatever that divide might be. It’s all related to insecurities: You’re either one of worth or you’re not. Beauty, cool, and success all play in to it, but at its core it was only just a way to validate an internal feeling of victimhood. When you tell yourself you’re never going to be one of them, whoever they are, there are few limitations to the levels of slack you’re willing to cut yourself.

I felt I deserved to be welcomed from the moment I got here. Without realizing it at the time, I used that sense of entitlement to paint myself something of a social refugee. “Look at all the outsiders,” I thought. “I’m an outsider, too — they should be welcoming me.” But in that headspace, it felt like if you weren’t one of the original outsiders, you’d never be welcome. I blamed others because I’d convinced myself I was insignificant.

I’ve not been much for prayer, but several weeks ago I committed. With eyes closed, my hope was to set the right tone for whoever was listening, myself included. I’ve been here a while, but now I’m trying something new. What makes a town someone’s town isn’t just living there, but being present there. It’s terrifying.

Good Friday

Getting to there from here has almost always felt like the point. This moment, just something to bear on the way to right now becoming something better. This experience a lesser version of what I’m really preparing for. And suddenly the future disappears. With countless conversations touting the value of mindfulness behind me, a feeling has finally caught up to the concept. My eyes look through the book I’d been reading and I focus on the ground. Then the distance returns, separating me from the present. I grab my phone and scramble to type, my digital shorthand capturing a moment, maybe to process it, maybe to drop an anchor tethering me to a place I hope to return to. For a moment there, an ideal had become practice.

Having returned to my baseline, my range becomes broad again. My attention is lost and focus strays to a group of teenagers off in the distance — singing, playing guitar, keeping a beat, a dozen of them in a chorus of praise. Some sway, some raise their hands casually to their shoulders making an exaggerated shrugging gesture as if trying to prove their exaltation by way of awkward physicality. My judgement flails, striking out at them for them being them, then back at me for mocking them, then again back at me out of jealousy: Never can I recall being so committed to a moment, sober, as they seem right now. For some, a better Friday than for others. I walk away thinking how an epiphany marred by regret is still an epiphany.

Artifacts

“Imaginary flirtations with the second amazing waitress of the day float through my mind as we drive home for the night, a bleak country-sized horizon lit up by the high-beams. I feel lucky.” Memory of writing down those words has left me, but the vision of those high-beams has stuck, us driving away from the city, back through the nothingness, feeling a just-slightly-buzzed hum run through me. Several months later, in recapping my notes from the trip, I wrote “The goal now is to stop imagining and keep committing until the person in the mirror matches the person I want to see looking back at me.” However faded it might be in certain spots, there’s a line that’s been drawn through each of these plot points, that continues on through today. There are so many memories I want to hold on to, telling myself that maybe they can become useful in relating to someone else. Maybe those photos, those notes, or those ideas will reflect upon me in a way that building something new can’t. The risk of letting go is made to feel so much more imposing by the fear of having to try something new. What’s the real value of these artifacts if they don’t help move the needle?