29 April 2013

The Rest of the Day (a multi-media event)

I wrote here, earlier in the day (The Notice) and then went out for some errands piano work for a few hours. When I returned, I stopped by FaceBook to post a status update. It turned into a memorable exchange of comments with some Friends.

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Alex Mercedes · 17 followers
5 hours ago · 
  • The theme from "Green Acres" is playing in my head (I'm singing Lisa's part): just picked up latticework for the wisteria from lumber supply and toted it home in the VW (sticking out of the sunroof by about 3 feet....just enough to catch wind and make me feel the car was about to take flight)....found a dead baby bird and a dead older bird in the yard and re-discovered the Sissy in me....and tripped over a new ankle-high mole hill in the front yard (wish I hadn't Googled 'moles' the other day...I do NOT think they're cute....). Looked around to see if anyone noticed and caught the eye of the neighbor's step-daughter. "Excuse me...this is the first time I've been able to catch you. Just want to apologize if my step-father has said anything offensive. He's just a mean good ole boy and set in his ways about colored. They took him to the hospital last night so he won't be around for awhile."
    Like ·  · Unfollow Post ·  · Promote
    • L  likes this.
    • G  Welcome to the south. Home of humidity, Mosquitos, rolly pollys, moles, and some bugs you've never seen, and old school rednecks.
      5 hours ago via mobile · Unlike · 1
    • L  Hhhmmm sounds like something my maternal grandmother would have said. And this lady was afraid he said something offensive to you? Go figure. lol
    • Z  Wow that was a full day! My oh my!
      4 hours ago via mobile · Like
    • D  Did she really used the term "colored"?! How old is this child? Maybe that is her way of observing Confederate Memorial Day -- which many are doing today. You're welcome. 
      4 hours ago · Edited · Unlike · 3
    • D How do you feel about what your neighbor said, Alex?
      4 hours ago via mobile · Like
    • Z  It's like am exert from a Zora Neale Hurston novel; except in the present day!
      4 hours ago via mobile · Like
    • Alex Mercedes Oops! Thanks, @D , I did not know it was Confederate Memorial Day. And, yes, she used the term "colored". She looked to be about 40-something years old. Did I mention the 30-something year old who was moved to tears recently, telling me about what "they" did to Oxford (she was referencing the Civil War). @D  , I appreciated her trying, in her own way, to be neighborly. @Z , this was only part of it. Read about the rest of the day -- distributing flyers about the writers' group I'm trying to start -- at my blog.
    • T  I am old enough to remember standing up in class and reciting the pledge every morning (pre under God), standing facing east at 11:00 AM on 11/11 silently for a minute or so, and some sort of mention of Confederated Memorial Day. Enough of a mention that I still think, "Oh, it's CMD" when I write 4/26, however, I don't think it was celebrated separately from "Decoration Day" until DD became Memorial Day in the mid 1960s. (And we know what else happened in the 1960s.) I find it offensive that CMD is a state holiday in Mississippi. I would not feel offended by a neighbor saying colored, I think she was trying to use a "polite" term, and let you she didn't feel the same way her stepfather did. I have found a few people who aren't sure that using black isn't the same using negro.
    • D  It is incredible to hear behind the times the south is. And getting worked up about the Civil War? Geez. It seemed like your neighbor was trying in her own backwards way, but that doesn't mean she couldn't inadvertently be rude. That's why I wanted to get your take on it.
    • D  *how behind
    • Alex Mercedes Yeah, D , I caught your meaning. I live in MS now and, yes, it often feels like I've stepped into some other time zone. In a curious way, my concept of racism has been refined here. Probably a survival technique kicking in. I've come to see a difference between hate-based racism and ignorance-based racism. There's a lot of ignorance in MS; people just don't know things, haven't been exposed to ideas -- through music and art and fashion and education and travel and reading and... The culture is steeped in a romantic, Old South nostalgia. People can only know what they know; they can't strive for a dream they've never had. And there's a lot of weight in the culture against certain kinds of dreams. I don't rail against ignorance these days -- it's like flailing my arms in a hurricane. I hunker down and choose my battles and cut people some slack and stay focused on doing my work as a transformative artist and being the change I want to see.

The Notice


Earlier today I made the rounds to distribute the following notice:


 Writer's Circle Forming

Holly Springs and surrounding areas!

Published or not-yet
Fiction or non-fiction
                 
This group is for YOU.

Novelists                          Essayists   
Playwrights                   Poets                    Bloggers
Screenwriters                Scribes of all varieties

The Circle is a place to share work-in-progress and receive feedback; to find a writing partner; to knock loose your “writer’s block”; to discover new project ideas; to take your work to “the next level”….

The group size will be limited to 13 initially in the interest of providing as much space for artistic growth as possible. You must be at least 18 years old to participate (although wheels are in motion to form a Young Writer’s Circle).

The Circle will meet as a Free Thinker’s Zone so it’s not the place for those who are not open to all forms of creative writing.

Plans are to begin meeting soon after the opening of the new coffeehouse/cafĂ© in Holly Springs, The Smiling Phoenix (corner of Van Dorn and Memphis).  Call or email today to indicate your interest and provide contact information.

Ms. Alex Mercedes, Facilitator
Telephone:              274-3018
Email:            xelamercedes@gmail.com

I made four stops, in the following order:  the public library, the soon-to-open coffeehouse, the newspaper office, and the grocery store. Here's what happened at each site.

The Library
As I walked in, the male librarian with a hearing deficit was seated at a computer station in the Job Search area. Our eyes met as I entered and, surprisingly, he smiled and lifted his hand in greeting. I smiled back and waved. As I approached the desk, librarian Gwen looked up and smiled. "Hello! How you doin'?" "I am very well, thank you. The sun is shining and I'm happy about that." "Yes, and it feels good, too," she replied.

I asked if there was somewhere to post my announcement and handed her a copy to consider. "Sure, sure," she said.  "You need a pin..."  She pulled a push-pin from the box on her desk and handed it to me. The bulletin board was full. Except for the third of the space taken up by business cards, most of the items on the board were expired issues. I hung the notice so that it overlapped with only two of the expired flyers, wondering if anyone reads notices on this board.

The Coffeehouse
Chelius and his little son (taking a break today from his usual pirate get-up, he was wearing a child-size workman's belt and carrying a hammer that makes music) were inside. I asked about posting the notice, acknowledging that perhaps he would prefer not to clutter the front windows with paper. He enthusiastically assured me he had no problem with posting it. He removed an expired Behind the Big House Tour poster and replaced it with my notice.

Two down and two to go....

The Offices of the South Reporter
I waited while the employee at the counter finished a conversation with a slender young mother about a church-related notice to appear in the next edition. Her toddler daughter, clinging to big-head doll that needs a bath, stared open-mouthed at me while she waited.

"Can I help you?"
"Yes, I'd like to put this in the next edition of the paper."  I handed her a copy and watched as her eyes moved over the page.
"Do y'all have a group?" She asked.
"Who is 'y'all'?"
"I know there's a....a group for, over at the library something for..."  She looked at me. I looked back.
"I know they have the reading group..." she went on.
"Yes, a book club. I've heard about that."
"Is this a book club?"
"No, ma'am. It's a writing group I hope to start."
"Oh. So....let's see...." She turned her gaze back to page in her hand.  "Oh! What's this..."Free Thinker's Zone". What is that?"
"It's a group without a particular political affiliation. It's open to everyone."
"I see..." she said and resumed reading. "Oh. Oh. Now you can't put that in.  This 'The Smiling Phoenix"...we can't put that in."
"No?  Why not?"
"Is this a coffeehouse? Do you have a coffeehouse?"
"Well, The Smiling Phoenix is a coffeehouse that will open soon. I want to launch the writer's group around the same time."
"But we can't advertise for coffeehouse. We can't put that in."
"This isn't an advertisement for the coffeehouse."  Pointing to the words on the sheet, I read the line aloud. "This is more of a reference point, a time marker. So if folks are wondering 'Is that group starting this weekend?' this line will help to address that question."
"Well is it your coffeehouse?"
"No. The coffeehouse is owned by Mr. Carter."
"Is this his writing group?"
"No. I'm starting it. This is me, Alex Mercedes. That's my contact information at the bottom."
"So who owns the coffeehouse?"
"That would be Mr. Chelius Carter."
"I see..... Well, OK. This is just about the writing, then. Not about the coffeehouse."
"That's right."
"OK." A moment of silence. I think she still didn't want to publish it but was struggling to find an argument. "OK then...."
"Thank you so much.  My contact information is at the bottom if there are any other questions."

I circled back to the coffeehouse to share this story with Chelius. Neither of us could figure out exactly what the resistance stemmed from.

The Grocery Store
The front window of the grocery store is always full of notices about church-sponsored events, Relay for Life events, Rust College happenings.... The owner, Neil, was standing near the checkout when I entered. We'd had a great conversation last week that started with my request that he stock unbleached flour. He'd promised to look into it and invited me to check back with him today. "I'm not here about the flour...." I began. "Well, I checked," he responded, "and...well, let me go get a bag." While he retrieved the flour, I picked up some lime juice from Aisle 3.

He returned with a bag. "You see, it is 'unbleached' but it's 'enriched.' Is that what you want?"  I smiled. "Not really.  And, you see here, it's also 'pre-sifted' and 'self-rising.' I really just want plain old unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose flour."

"Yeah. That's what I thought. My distributor doesn't carry that but I'll check with my specialty guy when he comes in tomorrow."

"Funny, isn't it? How the unprocessed, 'natural' variety of things is now considered 'specialty'...."

We laughed. Talked some more about things in general and Holly Springs in particular. I showed him the
notice. He said, "Sure.  Post that. That's great. I like that!" and instructed a cashier to find some tape for me.

We walked awhile longer after I affixed the notice to the crowded window (had to place it higher than I wanted). My takeaway from the conversation:  People like you have come to Holly Springs in the past and tried to start something and failed. You just have to get the folks who aren't like you involved or you're bound to fail.

Don't I know it.....