I’m writing today from the Lillian E. Smith Center in Clayton, GA, where I’m finishing out my fifth residency with a 90-minute blog post. The idea behind the 90-minute blog post is to get perfectionists out of their own way and to make posting less of an insurmountable task. Read about it in a post recently, which I’m having trouble tracking down to link. Anyway, I’m wid it.
I came down to GA from NYC ten days ago with the goal to find some direction for my Taiwan Play. I overlapped some of the time here with my dad who was working on ideas for a production of Lillian Smith’s Strange Fruit that he has adapted and will be directing at Piedmont College this semester. I was also able to share some time on the mountain with my beau, Jason!
I’m not going to go too far into details about where I think my play will go, but at this point, I’m pretty sure that I no longer want it to be a one-women show. I’m finding that there is so much interesting overlap in the stories my interviewees have told me, that it would be a disservice not to have several bodies onstage telling them together. I’m also of the mind that a white woman alone on a stage spouting out stories of ethnic discrimination might be a little selfish, and would be a disservice to the theatre community, where roles written for people who aren’t white and male are still hard to come by.
One of the first things I did when I got to Wiggie (my cottage) was to make a list of things I hoped to accomplish during my residency. (I love lists!) Of course, structuring my research in a workable way to write my play was at the top of the list (duh), but I knew I’d need some other “procrastination-tasks” to do while I kicked my feet and looked at everything but my interviews. One of those tasks was to transfer my a&a pics to Pinterest: go down memory lane, get back into my Taiwan world, and promote ze blog all at the same time. A no-brainer! I’ve got a gold mine of information about Taiwan on this baby, AND people have already pinned pictures from a&a to their travel boards! So! Stay tuned as a&a gets pinned.
And then came the moment I realized that sharing my screen were pictures of my old neighborhood in Taipei next to a picture I had posted of me and Jason at Tallulah Gorge (courtesy of my Insta widget). It was like two worlds colliding. An idea which pretty much sums up my time each summer in Clayton.
Over the years, I’ve come to think of the Lillian E. Smith Center as an oasis of humanity, in a county that many think of as “redneck.” Whenever I get off the plane and start the drive the the Center, I play a game to see how long it takes before I spot a confederate flag stuck to the rear window of a pick-up truck. This time, it happened slower. It wasn’t until I got to Clayton that I started seeing them. Everywhere. And not just the stickers this time, but full-on flags attached to car antenna, flying from car windows, on bumper stickers, and affixed to store entrances (just in case you weren’t sure whose establishment you were entering).
At a BBQ spot we lunched at, not only did a man wearing a “stars and bars” tee-shirt walk in (which, by the way, I had never heard as a term of phrase until my Southern beau said it), but he held several of the flags rolled up in his hand, and soon another family with a few more rolled up came in.
Jason joked, “So, which do you think they like more, Ritz or Saltines?” (Saltines are whiter.)
But I just felt sad. Because what I see is poor white people not only reveling in their own ignorance, but finding a sense of “strength” in it. It is common knowledge that the “stars and bars” being celebrated here was never the rebel battle flag, but was only adopted as such after the war. True, most confederate soldiers never owned slaves, but I can almost guarantee that all of the white teens flying these things out of their cars and shouting, “HERITAGE!” have no idea what the real reasons were that any relative of theirs enlisted. The racist rhetoric isn’t even thickly veiled at this point, and I’m as much a lover of Free Speech as the next gal, but what other country that has endured a Civil War is cool with flying the side that LOST’s “flag” in front of government buildings?
What I see is a symbol of hate being celebrated by a culture of poor people who are so afraid to let go of old thoughts that they are marginalizing themselves even more.
The scary part is, they seem to have all the money in politics on their side. The systematized White Supremacist policies that run this country have kept this idea of a, “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight,” going long and strong. It truly is The New Jim Crow, y’all. And if you haven’t read it, do it now.
Before my dad and Jason left, my dad treated us to a dinner at, Beechwood Inn, one of the highest rated Inns in the country. A piece of conversation floated above the rest. It was the statement from a woman dining, “You know, I don’t really mind that they took down the Rebel flag in South Carolina.” Meanwhile, the people at the table next to us covered everything from their feelings about “anchor children,” to being inconvenienced at a car rental on September 11, 2001. We left, full of delicious food and wine, but sad and angry.
There’s a reason why politics and religions shouldn’t be discussed at the dinner table. It ruins it.
Just like bringing up 2-2-8 at a dinner table in Taipei would ruin a dinner there.
So as I pack, I’m trying to reconcile my feelings about how much I love coming to the L.E.S. Center with the shame I feel surrounded by people who look like me but preach hate. I am remembering Lillian Smith, who still remains a beacon of compassion on Old Screamer Mountain. As Lil’ said in The Journey, “I believe future generations will think of our times as the age of wholeness: when the walls began to fall; when the fragments began to be related to each other…”
I still hope that is true. And, with my 300+ pages of interviews almost condensed into about 100 pages, I’m trying to bring some of the color-coding, theme searching, juice finding momentum back up with me to The City. It will be a struggle to find time to work, but I’m confident that I’ll be able to get out of my own way and make some magic happen this Fall!
Speaking of the Fall, I am very excited to announce that I’ll be teaching acting again to the kids at Urban Academy! Here’s to a Fall full of healthy ideas, mindful successes and a whole lot of love.
Oh, by the way, that whole 90 minutes thing? Didn’t happen. BUT, I only went over… a little.
Pictures to come.