15 June, 2020

bones in the ground, blog edition

More about Thomas Morris... and the twisted ironies of the place... here.

"My nature comes of itself." -T'ao Ch'ien

I'm the round peg
denied by the square hole.
I'm the rusty cog
that revels in being rusty. (from Field Journal)

So there was a BLM protest march in Bethel, Ohio this past Sunday.  Some of the more yokely locals decided to attack a peaceful protest, yell, cuss, steal signs, and generally embarrass themselves -- sort of like the high school varsity football team did my Junior year when they celebrated finally scoring a safety (That's 2 points) at the end of a scoreless and winless season like they'd won a state championship.

It's times like this I remind myself that "Bethel" is a biblical term meaning "A Holy Place." I also remind myself of the short list of points I tell people on the rare occasion I talk about where I grew up:

  • the afore mentioned celebration over a safety;
  • the fact that Bethel, Ohio wasn't on a map until 1998; and
  • the fact that Bethel only ever makes the news when bad things happen like that time a kid got off the school bus to find his parents murdered (never solved), or the time the barned burned and people died (never solved), or the time an alumni from my graduating class tried to rob a gas station with a pocket knife (got caught).

I remind myself that it's the same place where some of the "good and faithful" people collected money to buy a billboard proclaiming Satan had taken over the school board because the high school biology teachers continued... as they did when I was a student... to teach the Theory of Evolution. In a biology class. 

Bethel has never been a holy place -- not for me, anyway.  I can't even say that I hated it that much when I was a kid; I just always knew I was going to leave. The things I hated about it had mostly to do with the fact that I was socially awkward, which presented in all the usual ways. I didn't really connect with most of the kids I grew up, though I had a circle of friends. Looking back, it wasn't really anyone's fault that I didn't connect with most people. Even though we all grew up in within the same geographic boundaries, I had very little in common with most of them, and most of them had very little in common with me. Probably the only thing we had collectively in common is that none of us knew a damn thing and we were all wandering around lost, hormonal, and generally confused by the mixed messages we were getting from the adults around us and from television. 

I've mention before that until I turned 16 and got my driver's license, I never saw a black person except on television. Think about that minute. Then think about the depictions of the black community on television in the 1980's.  I know for a fact that there wasn't a non-white student in the schools there until after I graduated. So, 1991. I remember asking an adult -- an elder in my church, no less -- once why there weren't any black kids in my school and why there wasn't a single black family in town. He leaned in, smiled, and answered "What's out here for them?" He went on to tell me in a tone that suggested official, though not necessarily heartfelt, regret that there HAD been a black family that moved into town sometime in the 70's and that "someone" burned a cross in their yard. 

Local police did nothing about it. The family moved not long after that.

This is where I grew up, but it's not my home. And maybe it never was. My mother hasn't lived there in almost 30 years. My dad is buried there, but I'm not the victim of that sort of sentimentality that feels rooted to dead bones. The last of my father's family that lived in Bethel, my Uncle Bill, died recently. My cousins on my mother's side have scattered. My Uncle Jack, my mother's brother, still keeps his house there, but he and his wife Kathy travel a lot and also have a house somewhere in Florida. What little connection I ever had to where I grew up grows more feint by the year. I'm good with this, though growing up in a small town does leave it's mark no matter how long ago you left.

The absence of that sentiment in my make-up doesn't mean I don't love my father's memory, because I do. But attachment to dead bones is memorialization, not memory, and certainly not history. Maybe that's why I could care less about Confederate statues or the confederate flag. The Outlaw Josey Wales may be a good movie, but it doesn't ennoble the confederate cause.  I could probably suss out the delusional nostalgia and faulty logic that would compel a Bethelite to attack peaceful protesters. But to be honest, I don't want to spend the energy on them. They're not worth it; they weren't when I was a kid and they're even less worth it now.

No one there cares what I think. They never did, and that's fine. But I love that there are people there who will march in support of Black Lives. If there is hope in these Byzantine times, it's rooted in the fact that positive change is knocking on the door of a place that, while it's not as holy as it's name, it damn well should try.

12 June, 2020

Days of the goat, blog edition: Boone

The goats. Boone is the white one. Photo by AHay.

It's earlier than I normally write this, but I've got a day ahead of me and I wanted to get this down. I started working this week -- my first "job" of any sort outside my writing for about a year. Freelancing has gradually dried up, for all the reasons that freelancing does.  But let me tell you about the job. I work at a day shelter for homeless men -- the same place I volunteered once a week before the pandemic hit. When the severity of COVI-19 became clear, the shelter decided to cut volunteers, for both their safety and the safety of the clients. I'm unusually young for a volunteer; many are retired and fall within an endangered class.  And try as I did to get them to make an exception for me, they didn't.  

I can't say I blame them.  Shelters, even the good ones, end up with an institutional hair or two; it's about managing limited resources for the greatest possible use, and I have to admit that St. John's Center for Homeless Men does this better than most. 

At the same time, at home we've borrowed four goats to clear out the overgrowth in our backyard. This wasn't necessarily my idea; it was my wife's. But she works at the shelter as well, in the housing program, and she, along with the rest of the regular staff, have also been picking up the work that was done entirely by volunteers pre-pandemic. Everything from answering phones to passing out soap for the showers was done entirely by volunteers. 18 a day. So it's fair to say that everyone on staff has been overwhelmed and handling the best they can since early March. 

So my wife locked on the idea of goats. There's a logic to it. Goats clear pasture with frightening speed, and we have A LOT of undergrowth that's impeded our forward progress on some plans we've had for the back yard (Check out the Abandoned Garden Project for more on that.)  Also... well... the idea of goats is kind of cool. And my wife is really good finding things. Being a mostly lifelong resident of Louisville and something of a people person and natural networker, she's highly effective at finding things. 

God bless her for that, and for marrying a misanthrope saved only by grace and a lingering social conscience.

Of course, goats in the actual aren't the same as goats in the ideal. Goats do graze, and do it quickly, especially for of them.  They eat, they shit pellets like a broken bb gun, and they sleep. It's taken most of the first week to get them to warm up to us, especially Betty, the lone female. The other three are castrated males: Wally, Merlin (the brains of the outfit) and Boone. 

There are challenges, of course. And a learning curve. I grew up agriculturally adjacent and Amanda is from Louisville. It's true we have neighbors with chickens, and geese, and -- yes -- goats. But "domesticated" livestock are different than, say, domesticated dogs and cats. They just are.  

And we're learning. It's mostly going well. I'll report on more of it later on. I do, probably out of habit, connect these two situations -- the goats in my backyard and my new position as Temporary Shelter Staff... because it IS a temporary position. And I don't mind that, either. Domesticated goats in our backyard and me as a paid staff member anywhere, even a place I have missed and am really happy to be back in and able to help both have a FOR A LIMITED TIME ONLY sort of feel.  I'm peripatetic and stubborn by nature. I can be both affectionate and taciturn. Some people think I have a personality that has horns. I'm good with that.

Another reason why I think the goats, my new job, and me are all somehow connected by more than coincidence -- one of them is named Boone... which has been the name of my fictional narrator in more than two dozen stories, one novel and two novellas ... over the past 20 years.

More later. Gotta go.

05 June, 2020

27: It's not about us

Today would have been Breonna Taylor's 27th birthday. It seems appropriate then, to state unequivocally my support for BLM and the protesters nation wide in the wake of George Floyd's murder at the hands of Minneapolis PD.  My support  has been from the sidelines; nursing a twisted ankle and a case of bronchitis makes me a liability -- and while my ego would like for me to be out there, now is not the time for ego. Especially mine.

Activism, on any level, is challenging and dangerous work. Our country has has a history of
attacking activists:
  •  Dakota Pipeline activists 
  • Leonard Peltier.  
  • Medgar Evers
  • Carl Braden
  • Cripple Creek miners (the first ever instance of the military firing on American citizens with a Gatling Gun. 
  • Eugene V. Debs. 
  • Joe Hill. 
  • Albert and Lucy Parsons.  
This is an incredibly short list. The actual list is much, much  longer. 

Another list that's also incredibly long... too long to list here... is the number Black men, women , and children murdered by systemic racism. Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Dave McAtee are just the most recent. 

I rarely call out a specific audience in my posts, but in this case I believe it's necessary. I have no interest in trying to explain the context of the protests to the victims of systemic racism. So this is for everyone else: the ones who don't understand. The ones whose face is like my face and hasn't had to worry about being Murdered While Black.  

You don't have to embrace the Democratic Party to support the protests. You don't have to change your religious beliefs. You don't have give up calling for peaceful resolutions; but you do need to identify your biases. You do need to understand: this isn't about you. Check your ego. Demand transparency from all government officials. Demand that Free Speech not be penalized because it calls out truth to power.   Demand that police brutality and murder by cop be treated like the crimes they are.  

During the pandemic (Remember the pandemic?) we were treated to scared white men with guns trying to bully the government because they believed in acceptable losses to "re-start" the economy (that didn't really stop). Freedom for them means sacrificing others. 

The activists in the streets who endure red pepper bombs and rubber bullets, who get blamed for the violence perpetrated by police, by opportunists, and by provocateurs, are defining freedom through personal sacrifice. Their bodies are their ballots.  

Like me, you may have good reasons not to be out there. But there are other ways to offer support. Remember: it's not about us.