24 September, 2018

At Home Along the Dirty, Sacred River, Part 1

Where we love is home -- home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts. - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.



Ohio River at Louisville and Jefferson, IN. 1928
Home has traditionally been a complex issue for me. I've written before about how home is a person, not a place, and that is still very much true. But it also follows that while I have settled down... which is to say, I'm stationary far more than is natural for me... the truth is that the concept of home is one that I continue to struggle with. In particular, other people's notions of home have given me nothing but vexation for decades.

Yes. Decades.

Let me explain.

I live in Louisville, Kentucky. I like it here. Of all the places I've lived, it probably best matches the landscape inside my head. It's both rural and urban, straightforward and urbane, full of possibility and weighed down with deep dark problems that infiltrate nearly every good thing that happens within its borders. Louisville is a small town with a few tall buildings; not because of its size, but because of the way it functions... and sometimes the way it doesn't function. I've lived in other places in Kentucky, from as far East as Menifee County to the rolling hilled-hypocrisy of Lexington. I've travelled the state over, too, from Covington to Corbin. from Morehead to Middlesboro, from Paducah to Pikeville.1 And except for a decade on and off, I've spent most of the last 30 years here. Kentucky is one of the few places where -- except Lexington -- I have always felt at home. Calling Kentucky home brings up all sorts of complications, the second most challenging being that it's the sort of home you're expected to leave and (maybe) eventually return to.

The most challenging part of being at home in Kentucky is that Kentucky is more or less particular about who it claims.

I run into this problem most often in literary circles. It's increasingly common enough to NOT be from Louisville, or from Kentucky. But in literary circles... probably because Kentucky writers are once again an exportable commodity... because of or in spite of our Tin Pot Governor's dismissal of the arts... there's even more of the sometimes overt, sometimes covert protectionism of Kentucky culture and geographical identification.2

To be fair, I haven't been EXCLUDED because I'm not from Kentucky. That would be like saying no one reads my shit because I'm just one more cis-gendered white guy in America.3 I haven't been excluded, but living here creates a certain bias on the part of others about what kind of writer I orta be. Literary event organizers here tend to look for that commercially consistent version of "authentic" voices -- authentic but pedigreed, of course -- and while I can claim a lot of experience, many miles traveled, and a regional upbringing, the abstract lines that make Kentucky separate from the other cleaved pieces of geography that make up the Ohio River Valley delineate the cultural boundary, too.

Or, simply put: I'm from Ohio.

True, it's Southern Ohio... Southwest Ohio, to be exact, which is about as culturally divergent from the rest of the state as Paducah is from Pikeville. Ohio, like Kentucky, could be split into (at least) four different states if you look at geography, culture, and other demographic points. Actually, you could cut the Southeast corner of the state and slide it nicely into a larger state called Appalachia... a state that would include not only part of Ohio, but a fair chunk of Kentucky and Pennsylvania too, along with West Virginia.

For me, though, the map as drawn has less to do with the culture of where I live than geography, which transcends... and sometimes confounds... cartography. The dirty scared river's long and storied history as a major commercial artery that eventually opened up the West to the trials, terrors, and seeming inevitability of Manifest Destiny have made permanent imprint on the geography of the nation. And while it's true that the Ohio River isn't as prominent a commercial artery as it used to be, the fact is that without it there would have been no place for wagons, trains, roads, or interstates to be laid. The river, diverted as it is, still runs and still has a say over everything from where people live, how they get back and forth to work, and sometimes, how the weather impacts the area.4 So, I will never be a Kentucky writer. But every breath, drop of blood, and bone in my body is from the river valley.

And there's something to that, too.

________________________________________________

1. I even went to Fancy Farm once. Read about that here. There is no better explanation of the political landscape of this Commonwealth than Fancy Farm.
2. This actually has much deeper roots than Herr Bevin. He's just one more in a long series of yahoos and crankyanks who think they know what's best for Kentucky without ever actually spending any time in the state's underbelly.
3.I recently had coffee with another writer here who made that kind of observation, but I don't agree. There's room for everyone and all the voices need to be heard. I'll keep scribbling in my basement, unabated.
4, Watch a tornado laden storms hit the valley and split in half just to pass over Louisville. It happens. A lot.



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28 June, 2018

All along the multiverse/Traversing the Big Empty, Part 3 ( Consequences of a Nation)

[continued from Part 2]

[Somewhere in Satan's Taint, NM]

The absence of etiquette and the abandonment of common sense is what has placed The United States in the position it's in.

Not (just) Republicans. Not (just) Democrats. Something more fundamental in human nature is at work in all of these goings on -- children placed in cages, used as pawns to justify putting their parents in cages, too. The Supreme Court upholds Trumps travel ban and upholds the manipulation tactics of a California-based "pregnancy clinic" that doesn't have to pony up to the truth that they are anti-abortion. Regardless of your stance on abortion, the fact is that the Supreme Court has legalized the absence of transparency... and so has the Trump administration, as a matter of fact. We're being told we're going to be more free... free from those pesky regulations that protect (sort of) public water, help protect (sort of) public wild lands, and help protect the citizens of the United States (sort of) from being the targets of usury and economic piracy.  We're going to be so free because we won't know any difference. We're going to be so free because that's the only information that we will be told. 

And we will eat it up like a quart of Ben & Jerry's.

We'll eat it up because it rings "true" based on all the Neoliberal propaganda we've grown up with. Staunch individualism + capitalism - NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). We are such a large country, and there's still a lot about it that's beautiful. But we're a large country and as much as we say we're all Americans or whatever, the fact is we are basically clannish, provincial and paranoid. 

One of the things people learn in AA is that alcoholism is, in part, a response to unaddressed fears. My sponsor harps on this all the time. "We're afraid of either losing what we have or not getting what we want."  I want to suggest that this isn't just part of what drives alcoholics, or addicts of any stripe.
This is what has driven our foreign policy since World War II and driven our domestic policy (at least) since the Nixon Administration. And certainly the argument could be made that it was a causal factor in the American Revolution (though it was about taxes, not freedom), the Civil War, and every folly dating back to the crucifixion of Christ. We're scared that someone's going to take away something or we're scared we won't get what we want. 

Don't worry. We're not unique. It's an essentially human condition. We're biologically hardwired for fight or flight. The good news is we are capable of doing better. 

On a related note: 

Remember that toilet problem I mentioned in Part 2? Remember how I said they spent time trying to fix it and put us an hour behind schedule? 

Well the Assistant Conductor just announced that the toilets in Coach 11 are out of commission... because someone put something down there that wasn't supposed to go. Again.

The good news is I'm in coach 13. The bad news is, it could still cause the entire septic system go offline.

Progress is sometimes slower than I would prefer.

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27 June, 2018

All along the multiverse/Traversing the Big Empty, Part 2 ("Foreign Objects" and the San Bernardino Jerk)

[continued from Part 1]

[Northeast of Albuquerque NM, 26 June 2018]

So the thing about traveling by train is that there is at least one other inevitability you must embrace: you will (probably) not be on time. it's not that it can't happen. it's just that the odds are against it. Other than the near guarantee that I'll be within earshot of a crying child on an overnight trip (This is true on buses, trains, and planes. I always carry gun range quality ear plugs, just in case.), the only other thing I can promise is that, at least ONCE on any leg of a train trip, I will overhear someone complain about the train running late.

It's also not uncommon for the same person who complains about the train running late to be a smoker who also complains about not getting enough time to smoke.

The lesson here? If you're contributing to a problem, you're in a good position to be a part of the solution. In the case, shut up and be grateful for what smoke breaks  you get because, seriously, they don't have to. THEY DON'T HAVE TO. They cut a fresh air stop at San Bernardino because someone jerk thought the All Aboard call meant he had time to take his time and finish his cigarette and apparently didn't like it when the train left without him.

What's the take away there, Dear Friends and Readers? It only takes ONE jerk to ruin it for everyone.
Being part of a community -- even a temporary one created because everyone is on the same train -- means there are larger concerns. For example, when some person or persons unknown puts paper towels or other ... to quote Conductor Justin ... "Foreign Objects" down one of the vacuum toilets, it can cause the ALL THE TOILETS ON THE TRAIN NOT TO WORK. That happening can really affect the air quality in an enclosed coach. Larger concerns define -- or impact -- every aspect of travel, from the rule against "foreign objects" to the prohibition of pocket knives on air planes and Greyhound buses, to the limits on baggage size and weight, to [fill in the blank.] Yes, everyone wants to get where they're going. But that means EVERYONE WANTS TO GET WHERE THEY'RE GOING. EVERY ONE.

Contradicting or impeding common purposes -- those things that are bigger than any one of us -- naturally has consequences. The San Bernardino Jerk (as he is forever named) caused the cancellation of a fresh air break. Who ever the person or persons were who tried to flush "foreign objects" down one of the toilets caused a delay in Albuquerque (of all places) for repairs that has put the train a about an hour behind. 

And how will they make this time up? That's right. THEY WILL CUT THE FRESH AIR BREAKS.
It's not rocket science. It's just common sense and... etiquette.



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