14 March 2014

How I Ended Up Here

The two most common responses I hear when I tell someone from Mississippi that I live in Holly Springs are:

How in the world did you end up there?!
Oh, what a beautiful little town...
Yesterday morning, I rolled out of bed too soon and accidentally whacked myself in the head when I opened the bedroom door. I stumbled to the bed and collapsed. Hands clasping my head and tears rolling down my cheeks, I moaned out loud "I hate this place!"

The blow to the head and the sharp unexpected pain was enough to shatter any polite politic grace of attitude. All the psychic suffering of this sojourn in MS came rushing to the surface and I lost touch with the mantra of gratitude and positivity that I typically strive to maintain.

I "ended up here" because I accepted an invitation...because I followed a vague dream without doing preliminary research...because I was afraid of the budding success I was experiencing as a stage artist in CA...

And I also believe we end up where we're supposed to be, to do what we're supposed to do. On my hardest days here, I try to keep that in mind.

For many people, the loveliness of Holly Springs resides in the abundance of antebellum homes. What I find lovely in Holly Springs is the way Spring comes, bursting blooms all over town in an array of colors that run from the delicate cheer of yellow crocuses on the front lawn to the bold elegance of magnolia blooms on Gholson to the blazing pink of azaleas climbing columns and verandas all over town.

And there is loveliness too in the easy-going pace of life here.  Screaming sirens in the night are rare. Road rage is practically non-existent and preliminary inquiries about the health of relatives is a standard feature of conversation.

There is a down side to the laid back pace. I've come to believe that the slowness here contains more "apathy" than "relaxation." Among the features of the culture that have been most difficult for me to deal with are the lack of initiative and a practiced avoidance of follow-through. Next to nothing happens here in the way of industry or start-up and isolated instances of enthusiasm and inventiveness are very often met with stolid resistance if not outright hostility.

Along with this, ignorance and archaic worldviews reign.  People were baffled when the coffeehouse opened last year -- "Why do we need a coffeehouse? I can make coffee at home" was a common reaction.  The high school principal met my proposal to offer after-school theatrical programming with ridicule of my "enthusiasm." It's a place where parents provide school officials written permission to whip their children because the Bible says "spare the rod and spoil the child."

And it's a place where boys who play piano are called "sissies."

I recently placed an ad in the local weekly offering private music lessons. I used the words "piano" and "keyboard" hoping to reach people who owned small electronic piano keyboards as well as those owning acoustic and digital pianos.

Yesterday one of two callers in response to the ad was the mother of an 8-year-old boy who has exhibited musical ability since he was very young. Only last weekend, a relative who noticed the boy's musical inclinations gave him an electric keyboard. On the phone with me, the mother remarked, "I was so glad to see your ad in the paper. There's just nothing for kids to do here in Holly Springs and he's been asking for piano lessons for a long time. I was thinking piano lessons is too sissified for a boy but when I saw "keyboard" in your ad I thought "OK, we can do that.;"

Her comments brought back memories from my own childhood. In the small town where I grew up, my passion for classical piano music was viewed critically since classical music was considered "for Whites only" by many in the Black community. It's a peculiar fixation:  the human need to draw lines around ideas and interests and other intangibles, to make sure everyone is assigned a box and movement is closely monitored to be sure we all stay in our assigned boxes.

I have not met the child yet and his first lesson isn't until next Thursday but he's already laid claim to a special room in my heart. I know how it feels to love something that you shouldn't.  I know how it feels to receive public scorn because your passion runs in an unpopular direction or runs counter to your gender/age/race/size/etc assignment.

I'm so grateful that I ended up here, in Holly Springs at this point in time, standing by the door when Opportunity Knocked and offered an opportunity to provide one hour a week in this kid's life where he can openly love piano and no one's gonna call him names.