Some of us continue the hunt for a national identity: not where are we, but who are we?
Let me start by reminding everyone of my motivations, and the part I play in all this. I have grown up (or, at least, aged) in a country in which I was only vaguely aware of prejudices that have kept us from reaching our full potential. I laughed at, memorized and even told racist jokes, “fag” jokes, Jewish jokes, Pollock jokes(oops! My proof-reading professor from U of I advises me that Jackson Pollock was no joke–should be Pollack jokes!) and probably every other kind of joke that found its base in the humiliation of others. My reward was to be accepted by my peers. My own transformation ( still a work in progress) was not brought about by any life changing event at any specific hour and day. And I was never marginalized, except to be mildly rebuked for being “four-eyes” : wearing glasses since the age of five meant I was an intellectual,which, in the America I grew up in, was associated with being effeminate, a serious crime.
Yet, in all of us, regardless of the circumstance of our birth or position, is that tendency that can be either nurtured or bludgeoned to death: empathy.
Unrelated suffering (mild) in my own life opened me up to feel the suffering of others. The suffering that many people are subjected to in this country is not random, but institutionalized, and I see hate being celebrated and promoted. Like so many others, I have had enough, so I sought to use this website, these contests I sponsor, as a way to engage people in conversation, for victims and survivors of our institutionalized neanderthalism to share their stories, and for those growing up in America who were either passive or oblivious to the racist/sexist under-pinings of our culture to now be part of the solution, show the commonality of empathy for their fellow creatures, and let a healing begin. As Alex Haley ghost-wrote in the Autobiography of Malcolm X, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”
Is this overly ambitious? Of, course, but I do believe this contest offers cathartic moments to those who share their experiences, and who leave comments. I am dismayed that some of the commentary has devolved into personal attacks between authors, but my role is simply to provide the forum, unfettered except if stories or comments reflect overtly racist views or demean any category of people. Other than that, sadly, you are free to tear each other apart, as some of you have done.This website, up until now, has always been about developing each participant’s skill to convey their thoughts and feelings by writing, a de-facto writers’ workshop. Upon completion of this contest, we will return to that format.
I am intruding too much on the space of author Martin David, who offers what appears to be an experimental style and story in response to our contest. I do envy Martin, who has been a life-long devotee to civil rights, marching, sit-ins, jail time. I regret I did not do the same. But it’s not too late for any of us, is it?
Section from Novel-in-progress I Think this is a Short Journey
by Martin David
Stages of Attention
What are some of the other times and memories? Where does reality blend with fiction? He was born. He lived—a lot, a lot, a lot, and he didn’t die. Is that the whole story?
Political Situation: Blank
The stages of attention. First is noticing. Being aware of time and space and place and pace. What’s happening? Sound—going down—going around—coming around. Notice and know. Knowing means having a view. Viewing, observing, thinking. He started with knowing. Unfairness was what he was taught to know. Unfairness implies that fairness exists. Balance is fair. Scarcity in the face of plenty is unfair. That was the gospel on which he was raised.
The next step is complaining.
“Hey, that’s unfair.”
March with signs that declare, “Unfair.”
“Hey, hey, hey, hey, you are being unfair today.”
Complaining was a family business from before he could walk.
Another stage is negative action.
“Don’t buy—pass them by.”
“Look for the union label.”
Boycott, boycott, boy cott, girl cott, apricot, army cot, cottage cheese.
Don’t shop at Woolworth, don’t buy lettuce, don’t eat grapes. Avoid, evade, boycott, boycott, boycott.
And then came action. Action, take action, act now. Even sitting still can be an action. Sit down, sit in, sit down and stay a while. He sat down and they took him away. At an unfair construction site, and some friends sat down in front of a cement truck. All work stopped until the police dragged them all away. He had seen jails before. In one town he had been on the streets without a job or a permanent address, so they introduced him to their jail for a few hours before releasing him on the road to outward bound. In another town they let him sleep on a bench in their jail when he asked politely. Sitting down in front of the truck introduced him to another aspect of jail. He was caged; an animal whose stinking toilet was in public view. His sleep was serenaded by the shrieks of the junk sick junky in the cage across the way. Cold turkey withdrawal is not a movie you want to see, but better to see than be. A pale white body stretched itself rack-like on a jail cell bunk until the skin looked like it would tear. A blue tattoo glowed neon bright against the whiteness of the tortured flesh. After a while the screaming died—but the junky lived—sweat soaked and vomit-splashed.
“While there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”–Eugene Victor Debs
Jail is an action. Action is a stage of attention.
“Henry, why are you in there?” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Waldo, why are you out there?” –Henry Thoreau
Ready to play your part?