Saturday, July 19, 2014

Hum, Shiver, Repeat

Oh, time makes men grow sad
And rivers change their ways
But the night wind and her riders
Will ever stay the same...

Reading The Hum and the Shiver by Tennessee expat Alex Bledsoe. It is set in Tennessee, but not in the '40s or '50s, the time some authors choose for that region. It takes place today, though I can attest the further out you go into that wild, the further back you go in time. The book has me thinking of family, particularly to bloodlines, about which I have never given much thought. While my father has researched our family's history admirably, I have but a vague sense of the family thread - a mutt pedigree that thins and fades like fog. Stories and words that twist themselves toward meaning. Small children watching affairs end with both barrels, limbs lost as a matter of course, men whose iron bones turned back invisible tides in the Civil War. Surnames break and split like streams to creek. Counts. Tucker. Bobo. Back further still. Signposts barely legible. Huguenot and nomad. 
All of this floats through my head as I read about the book's main character, Bronwyn Hyatt, and her return home, the blood that welcomes her as one of their own, but forever changed. I sit in my Minnesota home, hundreds of miles from the air the story makes me long for wanting to feel the arms of my mother around me strong, assured of something I cannot name, something known only to us, with small, mystic gestures like the Tufa in the story. We were born in the middle, neither urban nor remote enough to grow native traits I might later use to identify me in the us. I have trouble finding deepblood traits to distinguish us from the progression my parents moved outland to abandon. O how we seek to be special in the face of the tide.
Bronwyn's return comes through sacrifice, through heroic acts appreciated by her place and people. Today I find myself devoid of such, whatever potential cultivated in youth now leveled out and on display for those to only wonder after. At some point or another, I guess we all want to be a hero, have our mother's praise be vindicated. Perhaps sometimes it goes dormant as we enter the flow and tide, as we learn that just about everyone has potential, and that it is up to us to make it an active thing. Sometimes it takes hitting bottom to activate it. Maybe the feeling of a god's light upon our upturned face. Hell, maybe sometimes it just takes a story, a parable of sacrifice and humility before the immensity of the world, something to remind us that there is a difference between what we are handed and what we choose to do with it. We'll see. I'm not done with the story, neither one.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence Day

I get nostalgic this time of year. It was 19 years ago this year that I decided to pack up my broken heart and pet rabbit and leave my small town life for God knows what in a strange northern place called Minnesota. I was leaving Kingston Spring, Tennessee, a town that once offered the Ce Bon Motel (pronounced See Bonn) and the Dixie Doodle, a burger joint that would, sadly, change its name to the less colorful I-40 Truck Stop. It was a place that reared, damaged, and taught me. I learned to love deepest nature. I learned to watch my back.

Born of deep rocked pain, for which that tender heart was hardly prepared, was the need to move, a hunger for everything that was not my severed life. The pain of love failed, love taken, created first a resounding hum like a cuff to the ear or a touch of almost lethal live wire. That it did not kill me immediately should have been a sign. But in such situations, we are too deep in that well to have any kind of needed perspective. When your heart is broken, the world can, in an instant, become a violent kaleidoscope seared to the face, its colorful menagerie the product of outside chaos and of the soul sick rising up through the guts of your heart. When I would come to look back on the night in question, the night when it all changed, what I recall most are the sharp lines around her face and around the gaudy pictures filling the wall behind her. Before that moment, they had all been a part of a harmonious whole. Face, family, future, all tethered seamlessly by what could only have been that place, that time, that sense of fortune I felt had finally found me in adulthood.

For years after moving I wanted novelty without excitement, something to keep my mind from thinking about what was left behind, but I wasn't ready to feel. My new Minnesota landscape was just that, a minimalist backdrop onto which I splattered activities to make it seem like movement. I feared the opening of wounds, the revivification of life proper, the warming glow of the machine that makes us feel so much. But soon the past begins to fade as you start taking steps. I felt the need for fire. Flushing the pipes with salty air and stinging truths. I found myself opening up to new people and to old ones. I listened to Flannery O'Connor and cried while she laughed. I shook hands with the words of William Gay, from Hohenwald, TN and felt a kin. With them I wanted it. I wanted pain. I wanted their articulation of what I sensed but to which I could put no good words. I soaked up their sweat and sorrow and watched with them how the day stretched shadows to the edge of the town. I wanted them to hurt me, and with each eloquent barb, I laughed, a little more saved. It was a welcome comfort to discover I could once again feel without having to die.

And so years later I sit, having met wonderful people that would change my life forever, even one I helped create. I can look back on my Tennessee roots not with rose glasses nor bitterness. I can see it for what it was and appreciate it for same. To me Independence Day will always mean not being tethered to that which makes you less, but being a part of that which helps to make all of it more.