Memphis Musings: Wanna go to a klan rally?

10.25.17

I may not get there with you, but I want you to know that we as a people will get to the promised land. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mountaintop speech, April 3, 1968
We’d just exited the annex to the National Civil Rights Museum; the part of the museum housed within the boarding house in which James Earl Ray had been staying on April 4, 1968 and from which he unleashed a .30 caliber bullet that traveled across Mulberry Street and entered King’s right cheek as he emerged from room 306 onto the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. In this single act of domestic terrorism, Ray also unleashed what I believe to be a horrific case of collective PTSD, the effects of which we continue to suffer from today.

View of room 306, the Lorraine Motel, Memphis, TN
The previous few hours had been emotionally exhausting for me. I have known about my true history since my teenage years so the information wasn’t new, but experiencing the museum’s various exhibits; the photos, audio recordings and video, and remembering the evil and terror my forefathers endured always leaves me emotionally stripped. I looked forward to chillin with a cold beer and some good food, and going through the photos I’d taken that afternoon.

Freedom Riders’ bus. Fire-bombed by domestic terrorist, kkk members. Anniston,TX. 1961
We walked along N Main Street in a neighborhood just south of downtown Memphis, Tennessee. Because the Lorraine Motel had served black people during segregation times, I wondered if the neighborhood had been predominantly black. It was obvious to me that this area of town had been ravaged by poverty, neglect, misuse and ignorance over the years, but recently had been chosen to make the transition from utter desolation to trendy cultivation. I noticed more than a few newer businesses in the brick buildings lining either side of N Main Street that looked as if someone had taken care to preserve the structure, the bones, but had changed everything else about them. The renovated buildings had a cool vibe, but lacked soul. The whole place smelled of gentrification.

N Main Street, Memphis, TN
We wanted to get some soul food so we headed toward a little place that also looked like it had recently been renovated, called 99¢ Soul Food, on a tip from a brotha smoking a square outside another gentri-business, a barbershop boasting the name of former NBA player, Penny Hardaway. Ugh! 99¢ Soul Food was closed! I’ve found, when traveling outside major metropolis areas of the country, that many restaurants close at 3pm after lunch service is over, and reopen for dinner service at 5pm. Back in my hometown, I can get a meal in most restaurants anytime between 10am and 10pm. But on this day, in this particular city, it was my unfortunate luck to be on the verge of hangry during this two hour siesta.

We decided to walk around the cute, up-and-coming neighborhood until we found a place that was open, and matched our speed, style and, most importantly, our hunger for good comfort food. After being disappointed by another diner, The Arcade Restaurant, which was also closed, we came across a gastropubby looking spot called The Vault. My fellow traveler pushed open the large, silver door made to look like the door of a bank vault and we stepped into a cozy, old time saloon inspired bar, heavily dominated by wood in that neo-rustic décor that’s so trendy now.

I was so looking forward to plopping down on one of the empty bar stools and ordering a beer. Just as I was about to give my throbbing feet a rest, the bartender stopped me from sitting. Evidently, I’d been about to cop the seat from a gentleman who had temporarily abandoned it in order to take a leak. No matter, my friend and I sat in two empty seats along the adjacent side of the bar, began to settle in and peruse the beer list. I was just beginning to work my brain around what foods and beverages might make the next 60 to 90 minutes most enjoyable, when I heard a raspy voice coming from my left. The voice was attached to a squat, fat, older, white, bald man who was asking my travel buddy, “What are you gonna buy me to eat?”

“What?” my friend replied, “She’s paying for me. You askin the wrong person.”

“She’s payin’?” little old man said with more than a twinge of incredulity. I could almost feel a warm splattering of urine from the pissing contest that might be about to go down.

“Yeah, but I owe him. So It’s all good.” I said. Another friend of mine recently made me aware of how uncomfortable he feels when he goes out with any woman and she reaches for her wallet to pay for or split the check. This, whether she is a friend, relative or a lover. Since then I’ve been hyper-sensitive to this type of situation. But my fat little bar companion cared not one bit about how his rude, intrusive and insensitive questions might be received.

The man then asked us if we were married. “No”, I said. “But we used to be.”

That bit of information completely shocked him. The man’s eyes literally popped out of his head, “YOU were married to HER?!” he asked, in his raspy southern twang.

I wasn’t quite sure what he was implying with the carefully chosen inflections he used on certain words. I didn’t bother to ask either. We assured the man that yes, indeed, we had been married up until about 9 years ago. We’d raised a son who had recently gotten married himself and given us a wonderful daughter. The little old guy was intrigued and so we began to tell him a little more about ourselves.

“What do you do?” He asked me.

“I’m an artist.” I said.

“A what?” He asked.

“An ARTIST. A starving artist.” I said, and laughed.

“That doesn’t make sense. Why are you payin for him then?” the little round guy said, but before either of us were given time to answer, he asked my ex-husband, “Well what do you do?”

“I’m a finance manager at a car dealership.” Said my ex. The man’s eyes bulged again.

“Yeah,” I said. “He’s the finance manager. He should be treating me right?”

“So what are y’all doin here in Memphis?” He asked. We told him that we were visiting from Chicago, on a road trip, simply bumming around the city.

The man was still trying to get over his shock at our whole ‘story’. He asked several times if we were ‘for real’, and so I felt the need to whip out photos from my son’s recent wedding. The man peered with squinty eyes at a photo of my ex, posing in a sharp gray suit and a big smile, with our son and new daughter-in-law. He squinted at my iPhone screen, then lifted his gaze to eye my ex as if he were figuring some incredibly difficult calculous problem.

“Are you two stayin in the same hotel?” He asked.

“Yep.” I said.

“Same room?” He asked, again appearing to be in stage 3 shock.

“Yep,” I said. “We rented a one bedroom Airbnb with a kitchen and a couch.” The fat little bald man blinked and stared blankly at me. I assumed he had no clue what Airbnb was, and that he was still trying to wrap his little mind around the ‘shocking’ details of our story. He pressed on, asking more silly questions about our sleeping arrangements for the trip and about our lives.

“Did you argue when you were married?”

“So y’all are REALLY friends now?”

“What does your son think about you two bein friends?”

“Hey, would you like to go to a klan rally?” the impolite man asked, with a sneer edging his upper lip and a malicious twinkle in his bugged out eyes.

Wait. What? Yes, you read that correctly. This weird little bug-eyed man thought it would be amusing to ask, after we’d told him that we’d just come from the Lorraine Motel and the National Civil Rights Museum, if we wanted to go to a secret meeting of domestic terrorists who targeted people like us.

Jim Crow exhibit, National Civil Rights Museum Museum, Memphis, TN
I’m the type of person who assumes people have good intentions until they show otherwise and had made the same assumption about this guy. But at this last question, I wasn’t so sure. Neither my ex nor I wanted to get into a discussion about race with this dude. My response to his klan rally question could have been to curse his little ass out and send him packing to the other side of the bar. I do believe if I’d chosen to respond in this way, that the white bartender, who later informed us that the squat man was a regular and completely senile (No shit!), would have taken my side in the matter as well.

Considering that I’d just spent several hours inundating myself with images, thoughts and sounds of the brutality, violence, rape, murder, terror, and theft committed upon my ancestors by the kkk and likeminded individuals, I’m sure anyone reading this would understand if I slapped the little man right across his fat face and threw a drink in it.

Jim Crow exhibit, National Civil Rights Museum Museum, Memphis, TN
I didn’t slap him though. Neither did my ex-husband. Nor did we throw a drink in his face. Nor did we raise our voices at him, or call him a cracker ass racist, or move to the other side of the bar to be away from him. What I did was stare straight back at him, my own lips curving upwards into a sneer, looked directly into his eyes, and said, “Only if we can bring a shotgun.”

My ex-husband laughed at my response, took another sip of his corona, and waved the bartender over so that we could place our food order. Our world will always contain hateful individuals. You can’t do anything to stop someone from hating you. But, you can certainly stop them from terrorizing you.

Jim Crow exhibit, National Civil Rights Museum Museum, Memphis, TN

BIE by billie marie

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Chance meeting or valuable meaning?

People come in and out of our lives over the course of our journey. In some instances only once, while others reappear over and over again. When children, romantic partners, co-workers, friends and acquaintances make an appearance, we can be tempted to consider their main function in our lives as the most obvious. However, I believe that, almost always, the purpose for meeting someone is not what we might originally perceive it to be.

We tend to believe we have children to fulfill a deep seeded human desire to nurture and procreate and, ultimately, to live forever, even if only through our genes. For the vast majority of us, work is a necessity. Therefore, we may be tempted to view fellow travelers who come into and out of our lives because of our jobs as mere accident due to unavoidable circumstances. The commonplace idea regarding those people to which we find ourselves physically attracted is that they have been brought to us for the purpose of romantic love or long-term partnership. Close friends and casual acquaintances often are seen on the surface as people we can connect with, spend time and share experiences with.

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What if fellow travelers enter into our lives for much more meaningful purposes?

Yet, how would our lives change if we believed that these fellow travelers enter into our lives for much more meaningful purposes? What if we chose to look just a bit below the glassy surface and begin to notice all of what we cannot readily see above? Like the ocean, if we lose our fear of drowning and take a dive, we find a vast world that we never would guess existed. If we dare to view all those who we come in contact with as teachers, we begin to make connections to our own life’s journey, and how these various people can help us grow, develop and ultimately become who we are meant to become.

Is your recently diagnosed autistic child teaching you tolerance of those ‘different’ than yourself? Is your new love interest, who you feel isn’t able to make enough time for you, instilling a value for times of solitude, which can be scarce in today’s hectic world. What about that friend who always seems to be a “Debbie Downer”? Maybe her purpose is to teach you empathy and ultimately sympathy? And consider that co-worker who seems to take forever to respond to email; could it be that he is in your circle to help you to develop greater patience and persistence?

Aspire to delve more deeply into the purposes behind why you’ve been blessed with the presence of certain people. You may begin to enjoy and value your time with them, no matter how short or long, much more.

Love …with a chaser of trauma

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Romantic relationships afford a most ideal petri dish for abuse.

Love doesn’t always have to come with a chaser of trauma.” I don’t remember where I originally heard or read this quote. And though I can’t claim it as my own, it communicates, so very clearly, a powerful and pivotal theme present throughout my journey.

If I chose to love you, and chose to continue to love you, do I then unwittingly chose suffering?

Intimate relationships afford a most ideal petri dish for abuse. And why? Because we are vulnerable with the ones we love; and vulnerability, in and of itself, invites abuse. On the other side of the love=trauma equation, we tend to get careless when we get comfortable. Our selfish nature asserts itself wholeheartedly, managing to inflict trauma, even without intention. The truth is that most of us will admit to staring in roles of both victim and villain when it comes to love.

So what is my response? Should I proceed with fear-laced caution? Or maybe I lead with a dagger, increasing the chances of delivering the first strike. I could also carry on through these chaotic seas shielded by iron (though I prefer masonry), preventing penetration – pleasurable or otherwise.

I don’t accept that there is one true and proper way to respond. I may try disparate approaches with different people in varying situations. Nevertheless, I do believe in the importance of being awake to the love/trauma dynamic and to the truly contrary nature of each, despite their perceived correlation.

-billie marie

 

 

 

Solo road trip

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Tuckasegee River, Cherokee, TN

Sometimes you have to get away from your life to realize what you have – or don’t have. A couple of months ago I decided to take a solo road trip. I had never taken a trip like this alone before. Sure, I’d traveled alone before – taken extended work trips or traveled to a city to visit a friend – but I’d never driven for half a day on my own to a destination where I hadn’t planned on meeting up with anyone else for the entire trip. This would be a first for me.

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The Appalachian Trail near Clingmans Dome, The Great Smoky Mountains

I’d made the decision to do this for a few reasons. First, I felt the need to get out of the craziness of the city after the incredibly violent summer we’ve had here in Chicago. Next, I wanted to take a trip to celebrate completing my first marathon – a goal I’ve had since the age of 25. Also, I knew couldn’t afford to fly anywhere for the remainder of this year so if I wanted to get out of town, I’d have to drive. The fourth reason, which introduced the idea that I may have to go it alone, was that when I considered asking various friends to join me I realized none of them would be able to go on the dates I’d planned to go. And finally, the reason that cemented the fact that I actually needed to go alone on this one, was that I wanted to reconnect with myself physically and mentally, and spiritually reconnect with God.

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Tom Branch Falls, Deep Creek Loop Trail, The Great Smoky Mountains

When I began to think about where I might like to travel, I considered more than a few different locations that I’d never had the opportunity to explore. I checked into drive time, looked up Airbnb rentals, and researched things to do. The finalists ended up being Toronto, Canada, The Smoky Mountains/Asheville, NC and New Haven, CT. All three would have been great choices considering my goals for this trip. Ultimately, I decided on The Smokey Mountains/Asheville, NC. This particular destination offered a manageable, straight-shot drive and the opportunity for beautiful pristine wilderness along with the option for an urban vibe.

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Lickstone Ridge Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway, TN

I drove about 1800 miles over this four and a half day trip, listening to audiobooks for the vast majority of my time in the car. By the way, I highly recommend The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber. The drive from Chicago down to North Carolina is rather boring. More than half of it is flat, uninteresting, Indiana farmland. By the time I reached Kentucky and Tennesee and the landscape began to fill in with hills and trees, it had grown dark. Thank God for audiobooks! The drive back was much better, partially due to the fact that the more interesting landscape came during the first half of the drive, and partially because I left quite a bit earlier in the day and so journeyed with daylight the whole time.

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The Appalachian Trail near Clingmans Dome, The Great Smoky Mountains

While I was in North Carolina and Tennessee I covered many more miles traveling to various hiking trails in The Great Smoky Mountains and venturing further south to Asheville, NC to bum around for an afternoon. I actually hiked about 20 miles over 3 days. The breathtaking beauty of this national park offered the perfect setting to accomplish one of my goals – reconnecting with myself and God. I can’t express enough how wonderful it was to get away from so much of the pressure of my life and simply ‘be’. I stayed in a lovely one bedroom Airbnb rental about halfway between Asheville and the Smoky Mountains. Each morning I was able to cook a hearty breakfast. In the evenings, tired from a full day of hiking, I made a delicious meal, journaled and either read or watched something on my laptop. Isn’t technology is awesome? Even way out in the sticks we can get a strong wifi signal.

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The Appalachian Trail near Clingmans Dome, The Great Smoky Mountains

Reaction from friends and family when I told them of my plans prior to embarking on this trip were largely negative. I can think of only one person who had anything positive or encouraging to say about my plans to drive nine and a half hours to hike alone in the mountains. In fact, a couple of them tried to dissuade me from even going with warnings of freak accidents, attacks and other potential dangers. But something inside me refused to be deterred, and for this, I am tremendously grateful. The time spent wandering through forests and among mountains, beholding the beauty of God’s creation, and contemplating my infinitesimal place in the universe was an experience I hope to hold for all my life.

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Clingmans Dome, The Great Smoky Mountains

As I move through life, I want to learn from every experience. One important insight I’ve taken from this one is that my current day-to-day life is completely out of sync with my natural self and a change is needed. Another is that the unknown can be a wonderfully positive adventure, and fear of the unknown is limiting and a hindrance to freedom. These are terrific lessons to take from this trip and I truly believe that more will continue to reveal themselves over time.

My first solo road trip was a fantastic and self-affirming adventure. I hope to be able to make it an annual event!

 

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French Broad River, Hot Springs, NC

Loss = growth

Viewing loss as positive can be difficult. The loss of a relationship with a friend or partner is sad and can be devastating. When someone we care about dies, the loss is exceptionally difficult and can leave a gaping hole in our hearts and lives. Losing a job or societal status comes with a different sort of heartbreak, but can be as equally annihilating to our spirit. The unpleasant feelings that loss inspires are so painful, that many of us will avoid it at all costs – even if keeping the relationship or situation in our lives is restricting, unhealthy or otherwise unfavorable to our present and future.

This is what I’m beginning to observe after experiencing many losses throughout my time here: Although there are quite a few negative aspects, in many instances, good things are likely to blossom following a loss.

In other words, when I lose, I tend to win.

And really, loss and renewal is the stuff of life – a continuous cycle of death and rebirth. Rather than spending valuable time and energy on the negative feelings associated with a loss, I can begin to view it as a door which, if I chose to open it and step through with fearless resolve, I can grow to a new plane with new opportunities and expanded vision.

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Dear Chronic Selfie Poster,

Dear Chronic Selfie Poster,

You are beautiful. Yes, you are beautiful in your own unique way. Though, many of the other humans, animals, plant life and plethora of additional elements that fill our world are also fascinatingly beautiful.

I do love to be informed of the happenings of your life. We don’t see each other frequently, so the social media updates assure me that you are looking good and enjoying life. Though, I wonder if you might consider sharing evidence of the external aspects of that life in addition to, or possibly instead of, the typical selfie-post.

This is merely my opinion and carries little weight in the wide world of ideas. I simply wanted to share my viewpoint, that while the selfie-post is nice on occasion, you might tell a much richer story of your life, and elicit greater inspiration for creativity in your followers, by sharing pics of who and what you encounter on your journey, rather than posed reactions to your experiences.

Yours,

Billie     xxooxxoo

P.S. I’ve included my own selfie for your amusement 🙂 …enjoy!

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What does happiness look like to you?

Recently, a friend told me that during her last therapy session she was asked a question she could not answer. “What does happiness look like to you?” Considering the fact that this friend is well into her 30’s, you might think that she should have been able to figure out this seemingly simple life puzzle by now. But as she related how this question had stunned her into several seconds of silence, I realized that the answer was much more complex than it appears on the surface.

We are told what we SHOULD think happiness looks like by a constant barrage of messages thrown at us by all of the various forms of media out there – television, YouTube, digital news outlets, Facebook, Instagram – the list is never ending. If we pay attention to these messages, happiness looks polished and clean, well dressed and educated. Happiness has an entourage of friends and a committed, loving, attractive and equally happy partner. Happiness goes out drinking and dining, and travels quite often. Happiness is in wonderful physical shape and perfect health without much effort exerted on exercise or thought to the quality of food consumed. Happiness seems to have an endless supply of money with which to buy whatever one wants. And happiness is always happy, always good, always well – all the time. By these standards, I’m not sure how anyone can achieve happiness. I know I can’t. And the reason why I can’t achieve this vision of happiness is because it is constantly changing and inevitably unattainable.

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The idea my friend’s therapist was getting at was the hidden truth – hidden only because, in our culture, we have been indoctrinated with this elusive definition of happiness dictated by corporations. The hidden truth is that we decide our own vision of happiness. Regardless of what any other person thinks, I have the right, the responsibility, to dictate what happiness looks like to me. If I so chose, I can go along with society’s idea of happiness. But if I do that, I will never really be happy. Instead of happiness, I will exist in a constant state of chasing happiness.

Rather than an illusory image of happiness, I would like to chose an attainable, authentic and sustainable definition of happiness. So, what does happiness look like to me? I’m not entirely sure yet. But I know that it involves jogging outside at a leisurely pace, cooking yummy food while sipping wine and listening to Nina Simone, and offering a smile and ‘Hello’ to a passing stranger on the street. Hey! Does this mean I’m happy?!

One act, for one person, every day

I saw something the other day that both broke my heart and filled me with joy at the same time.  Driving home through littered streets, hearing the incessant sirens wailing from somewhere nearby, I turned onto the side street leading to my block and saw, standing in the middle of the sidewalk, two young men connected in a tight embrace, one sobbing into the neck of the other.

Anyone who wasn’t personally acquainted with these two young men would assume the stereotype that they were gang members and quite possibly drug dealers. Both were donned in ‘the uniform’: Baggy jeans, slouched low below the butt, over-sized plain white t-shirt and gym shoes. I do not personally know the two men so will refrain from any assumptions. I can tell you what I do know. I know that each of us experience pain and loss and disappointment. I also know that each of us have the capacity to provide comfort and support for another.

My heart broke seeing these two young men and my thoughts immediately went to the negative. Did someone they were close to get shot & killed? Chicago has the most murders of any city in the U.S. so far this year. Were these two young men among the many caught up in this seemingly senseless violence that has erupted upon our city?  Could it have been that one of the two just received a frightening medical diagnosis? Or maybe the two are related and they recently lost a grandmother or elderly aunt or uncle. Even those living in areas with high crime rates succumb to natural causes the same as everyone else. It was impossible for me to know the truth behind the embrace, but I wanted to know. What was their story? What happened? How do they know each other? What gave them the capacity for such a bold public demonstration of emotion?

And then my heart filled with joy because in the midst of all of the horrible shit we see every day, in my city and neighborhood and in places all around the world, places crumbling under evil men who terrorize the innocent, places thrown together in haste because people are forced from their homes trying to escape the terror caused by evil men, places that should be safe but aren’t because we just can’t seem to get it together as a human race and treat each other with love, in midst of all of this horrible shit, these two young men were displaying love and kindness and comfort and support. And dare I say, many would throw these two into a catagory of the worst kind of people who “have no respect” or “don’t care about anything” simply because of their skin color and the clothes they choose to wear. But they were publically defying those negative stereotypes with a simple act of love. Small acts such as this, even though they will never be reported on the news and no one of import will ever mention them in a speech heard by thousands, are what create positive change and can be the difference between life and death for a person.

Each of us have the capacity and, I suspect, the opportunity to demonstrate love, kindness, comfort and support each day we are granted life on this planet. Can we try that? Can we try to put aside our discomfort and selfishness, our insecurities and prejudices? Just one act, for one other person, every day?

 

The Daily Post – Slowly

At times, I prefer to move rather slowly, regarding, with great care, all of the sounds that accompany my world.  The sound of a key entering the keyhole of a door and clicking the deadbolt to locked is one that provokes a sense of finality.  And my insides lurch with small dread at the cry of sirens from any first responder vehicle.  Loud, raspy laughter breaking through the numbing white hiss of passing traffic force my lips into a smile.

At times, I prefer to move rather slowly, training my mind to stay; linking thoughts to sound to physical sensation.  I feel warming in my tummy at the sound of that very particular gulp only heard when pouring coffee from a full pot into my rounded mug.  The whiz of the wind rustling through my thick, curly hair, and across the thinner skin covering my ears, fills me with delightful tingling liberation.  There is nothing else in that moment, or that moment, or that moment but the sound and me.

At times, I prefer to move rather slowly so that I can be.

 

Written for: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/slowly/

I can love you where you are

All the talk about the mass shooting in Orlando, FL this past weekend has motivated me to write a little about love. In a world filled with so much hate and anger, I vow to show love to those around me, even when it isn’t returned.

Although we love each other so very much, there are times when people disappoint us. We like to believe that those who care about us will always come through. But the truth is, those who care about us are human and therefore, imperfect.

In a perfect world, friends would always chose the right words to encourage us when we experience difficulty, and come through with that exact remedy that would make everything okay without being asked. If our world were perfect, parents would always support our passionate pursuits and siblings would be our best friends. If life were as it should be, our boyfriends, husbands, girlfriends and wives would never say cutting words that make our hearts bleed or leave us alone in times of desperation. We can wish that those we love will never let us down, but we know from experience this can’t be true.

We ourselves will let others down. Although we may care deeply for someone, we also will inevitably stumble and disappoint another. We can accept the imperfection in ourselves, but can we accept it in others? Can we meet people where they are, wherever that is, and still love them? Can we give to others the same thing that we deeply desire from them? Is love and acceptance possible, even when those we love fail to be considerate, fail to show up when we need them, fail to offer sympathy when we hurt?

I believe this is one of the most difficult types of love to achieve, but one we can all reach with selfless determination, an empathetic heart and a mind intent on the needs of others rather than our own. There is a misconception floating around that love should be easy. Nothing is further from the truth. Nothing worth anything is easy. Love is difficult, it is work and it is more valuable than any material thing on this planet.

Can we make a choice to do that work; the work of love? Can we make an effort, being consciously aware of our own imperfections while loving others despite theirs? I can try. I will try.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.