Where do you move when what you're moving from
The universe works on a math equation
that never even ever really even ends in the end
Infinity spirals out creation
We're on the tip of its tongue, and it is saying
We aint sure where you stand
"Neverending Math Equation" Sun Kil Moon (covering Modest Mouse) from Tiny Cities
As many of you know I've been working on an essay about my girlhood and how the Southern middle class exerts a violence of silence in order to maintain the myth of the status quo. In this narrative I attempt to unravel quite a few things that have kept me at war with myself for many years. I've been writing and revising this work for over a year. Today I did some minor editing. This is part of what I edited/added/revised:
I wanted to connect with my mother but only with a better, more idealized version of her. I wanted a Southern mama who baked cornbread and wore a white lace apron and called me names like “sugah baby” and “darlin’.” The mythic Southern mother resides deep in my imagination and even deeper in Southern culture. I punished my mother for not pretending to be like other mothers, myth or not. I can see a power in her silent resistance to such a role. She has never been the baking pies type. She was the painting flowers, fishing in cut off jeans, biography reading, piano playing kind. My mother is creative and kind; I never appreciated that about her. Though I am firmly my father’s daughter, I am beginning to see my mother in myself. Who I am is part of my mother and her depression is part of me. It is a part of myself I am learning to accept and embrace along with the girl I tried to leave behind. While I am not my childhood or adolescence or the things that happened to me during that time, those experiences are a part of me that I can no longer deny.
I have tried to deny my past by remembering selectively and ignoring what does not fit into my memories. Nostalgia is seductive. I have allowed it to tint my stories, unaware how I was silencing myself. Linda Hutcheon has said that nostalgia is more about time than place because time is something to which one cannot return. Thus, nostalgia becomes a reaction to that disappointment. Nostalgia, for me works through time and fixates on place. When I miss Alabama, I am nostalgic for the things it holds, the closed-in porches, the magnolia trees, long piers stretching into the bay. What they represent is time, time spent on porches drinking tea and listening to stories, climbing trees to pretend I was Swiss Family Robinson, baiting crab traps and fishing off the pier.
I don’t know if I will miss Illinois when I leave it. I have grown here, discovered myself here, and fallen in love. The distance between Illinois and Alabama has allowed me to look back, to actually see how I arrived at this place and this time in my life. Being Southern is something of which I am proud. Whenever I speak, someone will ask “Where are you from?” And though I say, “Alabama,” because I know they want to place my accent, I think of all the places that raised me. I think of Florida coastal towns, St. George’s Island; I think of Pensacola and Orlando. I think of camp summers in Andalusia and winter in London. I think of Paris rain and Illinois snow. All of these places race through me and I smile as I say, “Alabama” the place I was born, where I begin. The smile is not for what I miss but for all the places in between.
....I leave tomorrow for Alabama to visit. And I'm excited. Writing the essay allowed me to see not only my mother and my family with a new perspective but also and maybe more obviously myself. While lately I've seen how writing can damage others, I can also see how writing can heal. Finishing the essay has released the resistance I always felt for my mother, even in the back of my mind/heart. I haven't seen her since Christmas and I think my visit will surprise me in the way I feel going back. I resist saying going home. But it does feel like a return, another way to reconsider, to look forward instead of back or perhaps I can do both.