|Posted on August 20, 2017 at 5:10 PM|
From Facebook post 11-12-16
It’s probably well known that most writers are a mess of self-doubt, unsure of themselves or their talents. I’m no different, certain I’m on the right track on Monday, but by Friday wondering if I shouldn’t just hop into an open boxcar and give up.
Wednesday morning I turned on the news and saw what I dreaded most. I felt like I’d swallowed an earthquake.
Facebook was full of posts that mirrored my feelings; some short, sweet, and funny and others angry, incredulous. My favorites combined gallows humor with insight, calling for unity while offering mutual respect. A friend insisted we should all speak out, put our emotions into words.
I had nothin’. I couldn’t hold a pen without fumbling. I shuffled around in circles trying to remember how to feed the cat. I’ve been speaking my mind since before the primaries. What good did it do? Now all my current projects seemed trivial, foolish even.
I started writing a novel over a year and a half ago, influenced by the rash of bloodshed and brutality. I remember thinking that if I wanted to make an impact, I’d better get moving; soon all the senseless tragedy will end and my plot would be dated and silly.
Lately I’ve been researching everything from the Civil Rights Era to the lives of former skinheads, even going so far as to visit my protagonist’s hometown to explore lesser-known segregationist practices. I caught a screening of Two Trains Runnin’ as a sort of homework, taking lopsided notes in the dark. The film documents two groups of young men—neither aware the other existed—who traveled to Mississippi in 1964 in search of two country blues artists. One of the groups got involved with the Civil Rights Movement to register black voters. After capturing the attention of the KKK, they were arrested for speeding and murdered shortly after their release. None of the men convicted of the murders served more than six years. According to presiding judge William Cox, “‘They killed one nigger, one Jew, and a white man. I gave them all what I thought they deserved.’”
I don’t usually stay for Q&As, but this time I did. One man asked director Sam Pollard how he felt as a black man today. His question came out haltingly; it was unclear if he was baiting him or treading lightly, unsure of how to say what was really on his mind.
“I’m feeling a little disheartened. I’m not sure which way America’s going. I’ve seen a lot of things. I’ve seen a lot improve. But now that I have a daughter, a granddaughter...you can see history repeating itself. It brings it all home. You gotta be careful.”
I share his fears about the path we’re treading in this country. Racism and intolerance are escalating, and similarities to the violent behavior depicted in his film are startling. We’ve all seen the videos of past and recent riots played back to back, the mistreatment of minorities and subsequent protests bearing an eerie resemblance.
Sometime in the stupor of the last few days I was reminded of a Woody Guthrie quote: “‘There’s several ways of saying what’s on your mind. And in states and counties where it ain’t too healthy to talk too loud, speak your mind, or even vote like you want to, folks have found other ways of getting the word around. One of the mainest ways is by singing.‘”
No one needs to hear me try to carry a tune. All I have is writing. But the message is the same.
This week, truth was proven to be stranger than fiction. Maybe I’ll be able to conjure up the right words for my own when the aftershocks subside.
But the boxcar is staying empty.