Ours

And here we are on the second day of the new year. I didn’t not finish polishing the book yesterday; I am doing it old school–editing on paper–because of course there are endless issues with my MacBook Air still; the very problem I tried to get resolved the other day has returned, which means I am going to have to go to the fucking Apple Store in Metairie (because, you know, I have nothing but fucking free time) to get this piece of shit’s problems resolved once and for all. It’s a fucking iCloud issue (of course, the worst and stupidest fucking thing Apple ever came up with–hey, you don’t need any storage in your computer! You can just save everything in the Cloud! Oh, but if you do, it’s going to also somehow eat up the miniscule amount of storage we gave you in a laptop that cost WELL over a thousand dollars.

I will probably be arrested when I do go to the Apple Store.

So I was kicking it old school yesterday–sitting in my easy chair and going through it, line by line, page by page, catching discrepancies and contradictions and mistakes and repetitions. I only have about 100 pages left to go, so I am hoping I can get that done quickly and then start pulling the entire manuscript together so I can get it sent in. I had originally planned on writing a short story for 1/15 deadline this weekend and getting caught up on everything else I am doing (and am woefully behind on) but around eight o’clock last night my eyes started blurring and crossing and I knew better than to keep going with this. The work would just shoddy and sloppy–and the whole point of this polish was to get rid of the shoddy and sloppy writing (of which there is a ridiculous amount). But I should get it finished and turned in this weekend, and then I can move on to the next thing–the short story, and the manuscript due on 3/1.

After I finished last night I also had a bit of a crisis in conscience and confidence about the book–I’m not really sure why, to be honest. I am writing about race in the south, but I am also writing it from the perspective of a gay white college student whose been unexpectedly thrust into the midst of it by spending the summer in Alabama, and his dysfunctional family’s many dark secrets from the past start having an impact on the future. So, of course, last night as I sat in my chair watching the final episode of A Teacher (horrible right to the end; leaving us to question what the entire point of the show was in the first place) and the latest episode of The Stand (also not very good, but as a huge fan of the book I will watch to the bitter end), my mind started racing: am I depicting the people of color in the book properly and inoffensively? Should I be writing about Southern racism while centering a white character? Is the story itself offensive? Is this going to be another one of those “well he meant well but” things? I approached the whole thing respectfully, I think, and while having a main character who was raised not to be racist having to confront the racist past of his own family might come across as preachy–another fear–I think about all the young people I’ve worked with over the years and how open-minded they are; and they give me hope for the future–and that is what I drew from for this character and this book.

And ultimately, if I wind up getting called out for insensitivity, well, all I can do is apologize and try to do better.

But–sloppy and shoddy parts aside–as I read to revise I kept thinking this is actually much better and more cohesive than I thought it was, and things I was thinking I needed to add–about the family history, etc .–I already had, which was kind of lovely; I just need to make sure what’s in the early part of the book matches what’s in the later, and of course, hopefully whatever I may miss will be caught by my editor.

SO, it’s Alabama and Ohio State for the national championship. I watched the games–well, had them on in the background as I edited and read–occasionally looking up and being startled by the scores. They didn’t just win; they pummeled Notre Dame and Clemson, respectively. After the ACC championship game, I kept saying it didn’t make sense nor was it fair to put both Notre Dame and Clemson in the play-offs, giving them a chance to possibly play for the third fucking time, while shutting USC, Oklahoma, Cincinnati, and Texas A&M out of the play-offs entirely. (Well, Cincinnati lost to Georgia in a nail-biter–I also had that one on in the background, and watched the closing two minutes or so as Georgia rallied to win) But I think it is safe to say, yet again, that the four-team play-off just doesn’t work, and it’s maybe time to again look at and consider going to a six or eight team play-off.

I am skipping the gym again today because my shoulder is still sore from the inoculation Thursday.

And on that note, it is back to the spice mines for me. Y’all have a great day, okay?

Dueling Banjos

Writing about the rural Deep South is difficult.

I’m from the deep south, yes, but I didn’t grow up there. I spent a lot of time there, my parents were Southern, and so a lot of my values and mind-view for a number of years were patterned in the Southern mindset. I draw from my memories of summers in the rural backwoods of the mid-central-western part of the state, about seventy miles from the Mississippi state line or so, but there are also so many attitudes and mentalities and stereotypes and tropes about the rural Deep South that it is easy to become lazy and fall into those. I am trying very hard not to do that, but as I said, it’s hard. Stereotypes and tropes exist for a reason, after all–they weren’t created from nothing; there’s always a core kernel of truth in them, whatever they’ve become once the seeds were planted–but the key is to burrow into them to dig out the core kernel of truth to build upon, so you’re telling the truth. But I worry, as I continue to excavate into this book, that I am relying on negative tropes and stereotypes.

I think I was thirteen when Deliverance was released; we saw it at the drive-in, which was something my parents loved to do with us when we were kids. I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on in the movie–it was the kind of macho bullshit I loathed as a child, a loathing that has only somewhat lessened as an adult, so I stopped paying attention to it and I think I may have even dozed off. But I did see the scene early in the movie which has forever cemented into people’s minds a link between the backwoods South and redneck morons–“Dueling Banjos.” The open notes of the song are all that is needed to reference a joke about passing from civilization into the land of the uneducated, probably inbred, backwoods hillbillies; it has come to symbolize moonshine-makin’, overalls-wearin’, cousin-marryin’, dangerous rural Southern people. I’ve made the joke myself from time to time–driving through the Southern countryside at night, “You can almost hear the banjo notes, can’t you?”

Deliverance and “Dueling Banjos” are such a part of our zeitgeist and popular culture that the book and film have become kind of shorthand Southern references–even for people who don’t know the origins of the references. I’ve never read the book, but I bought a copy a few years ago because I heard one of the references in something–a talk show, a book, a film, a television show; I don’t remember which–but I thought it was time for me to read the book and possibly watch the film in its entirety; that there was a possibly an essay in both about masculinity, rape culture, and the American male. (For those of you who don’t know, many male-on-male rape jokes were born directly of Deliverance.) I never did get around to reading the book or watching the movie; to be honest, I’d completely forgotten about them and the essay idea until recently. I also never got around to reading the book because I’d heard bad things about James Dickey, who wrote the novel. Dickey was primarily a poet, and considered one of the better American ones of the second half of the twentieth century by the Academy, and Deliverance was his only novel. I knew people who knew Dickey, and the reports back on him were terribly unpleasant, if not surprisingly so. (American letters has produced some horrific examples of toxic masculinity with its iconic, deified authors.)

Southern people are masters at grievance; they’ve been aggrieved for quite some time now–probably as far back as when the rumblings in the northern states began against slavery.  Everything is always someone else’s fault; even that language from the 1960’s came back to haunt Alabama during the special election to replace Jeff Sessions in the Senate: “outside agitators.” That was always a favorite fallback of Southern white supremacy; people of color in the South were perfectly happy with the way things were set up, with not voting or having opportunities, and being segregated away from white people, until “outside agitators” stirred them up against their kind, genial white overlords. Outside agitation goes all the way back to slavery; Southern politicians and leaders railed against “Yankee agitation on the slavery issue.” It’s all there, in black and white, in the history books–if you know what to look for.

The politics of race in the South have always been problematic, but nothing is more irritating to me than white apologia fiction set in the South; in which the white people aren’t racists; those nasty lower class white trash people are the real racists, not the educated whites. I’ve seen this in any number of books and it never ceases to irritate me when I come across it; this historical revision that relieves the guilt of Southern white people is kind of like, as my friend Victoria says, how after the Second World War  no Germans had really been Nazis and everyone in France was a resistance fighter.

Bitch, please.

I guess all those southern white civil rights activists were working undercover, because they sure weren’t public in their opposition. (And yes, I know–not all Southern white people; but I sure don’t see any white faces in any of the footage from the civil rights marches and school integrations that weren’t in military uniform…or certainly not as many as novels and fictions would have us believe.) To Kill a Mockingbird is problematic to me in that I don’t believe for a minute that the sheriff and the cops in Maycomb, Alabama, were worried about the rednecks from the county lynching Tom Robinson and gathering up some of the good white people from town to defend the jail; history shows that the police were often Klansmen, or at least more sympathetic to the cause of white supremacy than they were to civil rights. That scene, while powerful, doesn’t ring true to me–it again divides Southern whites into the educated professionals and the uneducated racist rednecks, and I am not certain of the accuracy. The publication of Go Set a Watchman upset a lot of fans of the original work with its depiction of Atticus as a segregationist; they felt betrayed that the heroic white champion of racial tolerance and justice from Mockingbird was turned into a segregationist…but it was honest and real and rang true to me.

And seriously, I highly recommend anyone interested in looking at how Southern white people viewed civil rights during the 1960’s dig up The Klansman by William Bradford Huie.

This is, of course, part of the problem I am having with writing this first draft of a book set in the rural South that deals, in part, with issues of race in the modern rural South. I don’t want to be heavy-handed, nor do I want this to be another oh look another white person discovers how terrible racism is book, nor do I want it to be another “white savior” book; there are plenty of those already. But I also want to be honest; and how does one do that? There are always going to be those who criticize such a book for failing, or trying too hard, or some such. Southern racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny do exist, and having an openly gay teenager with roots in Alabama spend the summer there helping take care of his dying grandmother, while dealing with some other issues that arise during his visit, seems like a good lens to view all of these things through.

Or at least, seems to be one, at any rate.

I think this is one of the reasons I am having so much trouble writing this book and getting this draft done; I am so worried about being offensive or crossing some line as well as wanting to do it well and do it right that I am overthinking everything, and it’s like I have this incredible overwhelming sense of confidence about my abilities as a writer. But I am going to press on, all the while worrying…but I must needs remember: I can always fix everything in future drafts.

Part of my goals for the weekend are to finish writing a promised essay, to get three chapters of the book written, and to finish reading Steph Cha’s amazing Your House Will Pay. I also need to reread everything I’ve written for Bury Me in Shadows, and make notes as I go.

Heavy thoughts for a Friday morning, Constant Reader.

And now back to the spice mines.

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