UprootedDownSouth

The Lessons I Do Not Learn – Part 1: Don’t Drive on Empty

Dear Blog,

Try as I might (which is, admittedly, not much) I rarely learn my lesson. I don’t even learn the hard way. I face the hard way head on, it hurts like a bitch and then it drifts into the past, leaving me unchanged. Even when I remember my mistakes being exactly as bad as they were, I remain unaffected, unwilling to employ preventative measures. I simply shrug and move forward carelessly, clumsily and totally unprepared.

If you’re reading what will ultimately be this two-part blog post, I hope for your sake, that you are nothing like me. If you are, I can’t blame you, but do I pity you. It’s not a way to be.

1. Don’t Drive On Empty

I’m getting into the car a few weeks ago, after a day’s work. The sun is shining. The air is a perfect blend of warm and breezy. As I start to drive, I remember that my Mini’s gas gauge is on empty. I check the range, a digital feature that tells me how many miles I can drive before I cannot drive any more, and it says I have 12 miles to go. “Perfect!” I think, not wanting to turn around, “I’ll get gas in Leiper’s Fork.” (Leiper’s Fork, for the record, is almost exactly 12 miles away.)

Onward I drive, windows down, breeze on my face, happy as a clam (and totally as brainless). As I leave town I make a second brilliant decision to call my friend, Sara. And why shouldn’t I? I haven’t spoken to her in a while and it’s not like I have anything else I need to do. (Remember, I’m a clam, not an astrophysicist.)

Soon, Sara and I are engrossed in conversation. I drive into Leiper’s Fork and out of Leiper’s Fork in a swift minute. What a quaint town. And what a beautiful sunset. Sara and I discuss our alma mater, Columbia University — the ways it shaped us, whether it prepared us for the world. (I’m gonna say no.) Ten miles later I turn on Shoals Branch, my road, and admire the country homes perched on their country land — how the inside lights are starting to glow.

It is then that I decide not to go straight home. Instead, I take an impulsive turn. I drive 10 minutes west and then 10 minutes back. Talking to Sara is so nice, I think. And because I don’t want to hang up, which I’ll have to if I go home due to our service being crap, I pull over a mile and a half from my house alongside an empty stretch of field and idle the car as we talk. It’s not until the idling stops and the car jolts in a violent kind of way that I remember.

“Oh my god,” I say, cutting through our conversation.

“What?” Sara says.

“I ran out of gas,” I say.

“You ran out of gas?” Sara says.

“I was supposed to stop…but we were talking and the sun was setting and…”

I look around and see nothing but darkening fields, and shadowy trees, and hawks flying overhead.

“Hey, Sara, I should go.”

“You okay?”

“Yeah, Casey’s off work soon, I’ll call him — he’ll bring me gas.”

We say our goodbyes, I hang up, and I stare at my phone.

“Crap, crap, crap,” I say to my phone.

I think about what I’ll say to Casey and how I can make this not my fault. You see, Blog, the thing that Casey knows that you do not know, is that I’d just gotten myself into this exact same pickle only a few months ago. Twice. Both times affecting him. The first time, Casey and I’d been driving home late at night, him in front in his Prius me behind in my Mini. We were out on our rural highway, still a solid 15 miles from home, when I’d realized my range was 0. I’d called him in a panic.

“Casey, Casey, I’m out of gas, I’m driving on ZERO. What should we do? I’m such an idiot! I meant to get gas, the station was right there! Arghhhhhh!”

I remember the scenarios piling up in my head. Casey getting gas. Me stranded on the highway. Me crashed into by drunk driver and killed. No. Me found my murderer. Me murdered by piano wire strangulation. No. Me murdered by axe-hacking. I’d imagined one gruesome outcome after another — all the way to the pump. Somehow, the Mini made it. As I’d filled the tank with shaky hands I’d looked at Casey.

“This is never going to happen again,” I’d said. “But can you believe how far the Mini made it without gas? Pretty impressive.”

“Don’t push it,” Casey said.

But push it I did.

A couple weeks later, Casey and I had to swap cars for the day. When Casey got in the Mini he’d found the tank empty and had had to coast into Leiper’s Fork for gas. Luckily for him the drive is mostly downhill. He’d called me pissed.

“Didn’t it have enough to go 8 miles or something?” I’d said, defending myself.

“Leiper’s Fork is more than 8 miles away!” Casey’d said.

“Okay, okay,” I’d said. “I’ll remember to get gas next time.”

“Yes, gas is very important,” Casey’d said.

As I stare at my phone, I know there is no way to make this third time not my fault. Instead, I decide on a different approach to the conversation I’m about to have. The bargaining approach.

“Hiiii Lovvvvve,” I sing song into the phone when Casey answers. “I need to tell you something, but you have to promise not to judge me.”

“What happened?” Casey says.

“You promise?” I say.

“No,” Casey says.

I force him to promise, which he does half-heartedly, and then I explain.

“Where are you?” Casey asks.

I don’t know the address for darkening field with harrowing trees, but I offer him precise directions.

“Okay,” he says, “I’ll be there in an hour.”

“Are you judging me?” I ask.

“A little bit,” Casey says.

When we hang up I call my mom. I don’t know why I call her because whenever I’m in this kind of situation she gives me advice I don’t want and then gets mad when I don’t listen. It’s totally non-productive. But it’s habit. My mom answers just as she’s about to arrive at a party. She tells me she can’t really talk, but then asks me what’s up. This is very like her. Briefly, I tell her about my situation, (God forbid I miss this opportunity for a disagreement) and she tells me to call AAA. As though this is the most absurd suggestion ever, I tell her that I don’t need AAA, that Casey is on his way with gas. My mom listens and then tells me to call AAA again.

“Did you not hear the part about Casey?” I say.

“I have to go, I’m actually at this party now, but would just call AAA?” my mom says.

“Probably not,” I say.

Ultimately, my mom wishes me well still unconvinced by my plan but equally mindful that she raised a clam and that you can’t really help a clam.

“Let me know what happens,” she says.

“I will,” I say.

The sky is black now. The time passes slowly. Casey texts me every ten minutes to let me know where he is. I text back with songs I’m writing. One of them goes something like, “I’m in my car / yeah, I wonder where you are / with the gas for my car / la, la, la, yeah, yeah, yeah / I wish you were here right now.”

As I go to work composing a new tune, a truck turns onto the street where I’m stranded and stops about a hundred feet from me. I can’t see the driver. The inside of the truck is dark. The headlights of the truck begin to flash on and off and I wonder why. Suddenly I’m flooded with the memory of “Urban Legend,” a horror movie I watched in middle school. In the opening scene a cloaked aggressor in a truck stalks a lady in her car, terrorizing her with his flashing headlights. By minute five the victim gets hacked to bits with an axe. It’s not a movie a I recommend.

I sit in the Mini frozen. I watch and wait for a shrouded silhouette to emerge from the truck. I watch for the subtlest glint of a blade. The lights keep flashing but all else is still. The lights must flash 20 times. I want to tell the murderer that you don’t have to flash your lights that many times to scare the shit out of someone, but instead I try think about how shock will probably make the pain of getting hacked apart tolerable. BAM! I jump in my seat. Chugg-ChUGG-CHUGG. I watch the truck give a start and begin to drive my way. Oh my god, I’m going to die, I think. But then I don’t die. The truck doesn’t even stop. It just keeps driving until it’s gone.

“Oh my god,” I think, watching the truck’s taillights dim in my rearview mirror, “that asshole didn’t even ask if I needed help.”

“At least you’re alive,” I tell myself.

“You’re right,” I tell myself.

When Casey finally shows up with two gallons of gas, I jump out of the car and dance my way over to him. “You’re here! You’re here! I’m so happy you’re here!” It’s perhaps the happiest I’ve ever been that whole day.

We navigate the gas into the tank and somehow only spill about half a gallon.

“I’m saved!” I think. “I can go home!” I think. “And I’ve totally, totally learned my lesson!” I think.

I get back into the car, push my foot down on the clutch, turn my key in the ignition, and get ready to hear what will surely be the most beautiful sound in the whole world — the hum of a well-fed engine. But there is no hum. The car turns on but the engine does not rev.

“But we gave you gas!” I yell at the Mini.

Casey comes around to the passenger side and leans into the open window. “Try again,” he says.

I try again and then I try again, but nothing happens. I close my eyes. I tell myself this will work, that this time it will work. Slowly, I turn the key, employing all the finesse I can muster.

The car goes dark.

“Fuck!” I yell at the Mini. “The battery died!” I yell out my window.

I think back over the last hour, how I’d kept the car lights on, the radio on. Why am I such a clam?! Why couldn’t I have been an astrophysicist?!!! I think of the rocket ship I would build myself if I was an astrophysicist, and how awesome that would be right now.

“I guess we should call AAA,” Casey says.

I hear the echo of my mom’s voice and know that they’d already be here if I’d called them back when.

“Fine,” I say. “But you can’t tell my mom about this.”

With supreme shame I call AAA, and they assure me a tow truck will be there soon.

“Okay,” I say, “But I really just need more gas and a jump. I’m hoping I don’t need to be towed.”

The AAA lady promises they will come fully prepared.

“I hope we get a cool old timer,” I say to Casey once I’m off the phone. “Like an old guy that knows everything about cars and can totally fix everything.”

Ninety minutes later a man with a tow truck arrives. He’s middle-aged, has a thick southern drawl, is missing a majority of his teeth, wears the grease stains of a true mechanic, but looks at my Mini with disdain.

I can’t get a read on this guy, but remain hopeful. “I’m so glad you’re here,” I say. “I don’t know how much you know about Minis, but I ran out of gas and then we got gas and the battery died. I mean crazy, right? Good news is, I don’t think the fuel pump is dead because I heard it before the battery died, it just wasn’t working. I guess it could be clogged. Ugh. I hope not. Anyway, what do you think?”

“Don’t know bout dees kindah cars,” the man says.

“Well, okay,” I say, pausing to throw hope out the window, “I think we should just give it more gas and then jump it.”

“Ain’t dis ah tow job?” the man says.

“Well, maybe,” I say, “but I’m hoping–”

“Don’t have gas fer ah tow job,” the man continues.

“You didn’t bring any gas?”

The man turns from me, opens up a compartment on his truck, pulls out a nearly empty gas can and shakes it.

“But what about ‘fully prepared’?!” I say.

“Dey didn’ say nothin bout gas.” The man pauses to wipe his brow. “Migh could try ah jump. Y’all got jumpas?”

I wonder why the man is asking us if we have jumper cables when he is supposed to be AAA, but Casey speaks up before I can.

“We don’t. See, I drive a Prius, so battery is different. You can’t just jump a normal car off my car so…”

The man nods understanding, but I can tell he hates both us and our stupid liberal cars.

“So where ya wan ah tow to?”

I look at Casey defeated. “Our house is only a few minutes away, just take us there.”

It’s 12:10 when we get home. I run inside, shove crackers in my mouth and gulp a glass of water. I watch as the tow man lowers my useless, gasless, dead-battery car back onto the ground.

“So you can’t give it a jump?” I ask with a last pathetic, battered shred of hope.

“Sure,” he says.

I look at him surprised. “Why–” I stop myself and decide saying nothing is best.

The man turns his tow truck around, connects our engines, and I get into the Mini.

“I’m a give er ah lotta juice,” the man says.

I wait, nervous as he revs his engine. “Please, please, please,” I say to the Mini.

“Try er!” the man hollers from his truck.

And I do. And she turns on. And her engine revs.

“Oh my god! The mini is on! She’s on!” I say.

“Thank you!” I yell to the tow man, jumping out of my car. “You’re a magician! You seriously just made my night!” I want to hug him but I don’t.

“Got er get gas,” the man says tilting his head toward my car. “Drive er and fill up.”

“Okay,” I say, nodding, “I’ll go now.”

The closest gas station is 15 miles away. The whole drive is country road until you emerge on a highway. From there the gas station is in distant sight. I check the range — 18 miles. I’ll make it, I tell myself.

I drive cautiously, pausing but never stopping, afraid that a firm foot on the break will kill the car. (A fear that is based on no facts.) Casey follows me in the Prius just in case something happens. As I turn one last bend, I meet up with the highway. I look right and see the green lights of the gas station shimmering in the distance. “Oh my god, we did it!” I say to the Mini, rolling through a stop sign and onto the highway.

Suddenly, headlights flash on. At first I think it’s my murderer back for an axing, but quickly realize it’s a cop. Crap. No. No no no. Be the murderer. Be the murderer! The cop pulls up right behind me. Blue and red lights flash on in my rearview mirror. I look ahead to the gas station. So close. So beautiful. Instead of pulling over I decide to gesture the cop onward. I swing my arm, as if to say, c’mon, follow me this way! C’mon, c’mon, c’mon. I leave the cop with no choice.

At the pump I grab my license, roll down my window, begin to cry a little (my cop reflex), and start projectile vomiting my story all over him.

“…And then I thought I was going to get murdered but then he just drove away and didn’t even ask if I needed help, and then my husband finally showed up and oh, there he is, see the guy in the Prius? He was following me in case I broke down again, and anyway, he brought me gas, but it wasn’t enough, or maybe it was–”

“Okay, okay,” the cop says now standing at my window, looking at me, my license, and then me again. “So you didn’t want to stop at the stop sign?”

“See the thing is I know I didn’t stop, but it’s only because I was afraid my car would die and I just needed to make it to the gas station–”

“I’m not going to give you a ticket.”

“You’re not?”

“No,” the cop says in a way that makes me think he is trying to get away from me.

“Thank you,” I say. “Oh my god, thank you. You have no idea.” For the second time that night I have the urge to hug, but restrain myself.

Instead I step out of my car, and pump the gas, and look at Casey with a big smile. Casey waves to me and the cop.

“Thank you,” I say again as the cop rolls away. And just like that I am happy as a clam once again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

P.S. (Yes the longest story in the world has a P.S.) While I was busy charming / bewildering the cop at the gas station, Casey met a guy in the parking lot named Mitchell Fox. I don’t know how they fell into conversation, only that it was ultimately revealed that Mitchell Fox not only knows our house, but had grown up playing on our land, milking cows in our milking barn, and eventually married the granddaughter of the man who built our house. Turns out moonshine and molasses were produced on our farm back then. That’s small town life for ya.

P.P.S. Come back next time for “Lessons I Never Learn – Part 2: Don’t Canoe (or Do Any Water Sports for that Matter) with Your Really Expensive Brand New iPhone and Other Bad Decisions.”

-Molly Morgan Black-

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The Universe and Goose

Dear Blog,

I know I say this every year, so don’t roll your eyes, but whenever I look back at all that has happened in one year’s time, I can’t wrap my head around it. If I could go back and tell my past self, this is where you will be in a year from today, she would have called bullshit. But of course, that was back when I didn’t know Tennessee and I didn’t know Leiper’s Fork and I didn’t know Goose.

A year ago we had just moved to Tennessee and were trying to make a home in Leiper’s Fork. But home didn’t feel like home. Home was a mysterious and unknown and exciting and scary place. I didn’t move with a job and I went through a four-day melt down as I searched the digital job boards with hopeless abandon. But then I got calls and then I got interviews and then I got a job! Oh, hurrah! A job! And had you asked me to name my dream job, my idea of the perfect next move, I would have described the job I was offered. And then there was Casey. Within a month of our moving Casey had all but signed his publishing deal to write songs, the goal that had brought us south in the first place. Oh yes, the pieces were coming together. The universe had a plan for Casey and I and what a glorious plan it was!

But then shit got real. The dream job, the one the universe had picked out just for me, quickly showed itself to be the opposite of what I had envisioned. It was a nightmare by all its many definitions and me the subject of its torment.  As the nightmare sucked me deeper down into its merciless darkness, I grew despondent and then angry and then rageful at it turning me into someone who is despondent and angry. Meanwhile, Casey’s totally-for-sure-but-not-yet-on-paper deal fell through due to funds that were not in existence.

Oy.

I have to tell you, this is a year that made me most grateful for my marriage. As Casey doubted whether or not he would ever sign that ever-elusive Nashville publishing deal, I unearthed reserves of hope and trust in him and in us and our ability to have the lives we want and I poured all of that into him. In turn, as I had unprovoked crying spells or just needed to vent all the same things I had vented the night before, Casey listened and never failed to remind me that I could change the course of my career path, that this job would not be forever.

In January Casey got a publishing deal, in June I was offered a new job, about a week later Casey’s new album came out and then, somewhere in that early-summertime mix, I met Goose. If the universe had been hibernating, it had certainly awoken mightier than ever, ready to fix the mess it had made that winter.

Goose, with his thick white hair that falls straight to his shoulders and his equally thick white mustache that forms parentheses around his lips, with his loose jeans that fall just below his crack and his boots that seem capable of going anywhere and doing anything, with his accent that is muddy enough to make you listen hard and close, yes, that Goose, in a single, friendly, hard-to-totally-make-out conversation managed to throw us the biggest and best curve ball we’d seen in our new southern lives.

I’d heard of Goose before I met him. His name just seems to slip into conversation around where we live. A sign of being a local. If you can namedrop Goose, you’re in. I recognized Goose before I met him too, though I didn’t know his name. Just saw him everywhere. At The Country Boy diner, occupying a specially designated table for the local old timers. At Puckett’s, sitting  outside, sucking down one last sip of beer. Either he owned the town or worked for everyone in it. The first time I really saw Goose, or at least took a good long notice, he was leaving Puckett’s with an open beer in his hand and hollerin’ to nobody about where he’d put his truck. When he found it, directly across the street, he got in, open beer and all, and drove off loud on a quiet night. Was this guy above the law or was he the law?

Either way I figured he was a person I should know and was thus starstruck when he decided to introduce himself to me. I’d come into Leiper’s Fork that evening to sit outside and write at Puckett’s. It’s not a normal thing to do. People at Puckett’s don’t come there to work. I may in fact be the only person I’ve ever seen sit at Puckett’s typing away on a laptop, trying to accomplish something. Puckett’s is for drinking, eating, listening to music, shooting the shit, and milling about. Perhaps Goose interrupted me in an effort to preserve the Leiper’s Fork culture.

“Girl, what are you doin’?”

I looked up from my screen to the tanned and leathered face of the man with the white hair and  white mustache.

“I’m writing,” I said.

“You a writer?” he said.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“That’s fine,” he said.

“I recognize you,” I said. “You’re here all the time. You one of the owners?” I asked him this, but what I wanted to ask is if he was above the law and how I could be too.

“Nah,” he said. “With all the beer I drink, it’d probably be better for my wallet if I was though.”

And then I introduced myself. And then he introduced himself. And the two legends of this town that I had come to know, one by name and one by face–Goose and the guy with the long white mustache–collided into one grand being.

“You’re Goose?” I said.

“I’m Goose,” he said.

And in an effort to stop myself from acting like I’d just met my favorite celebrity, I just said, “cool,” and moved past the moment.

He asked me where I lived, and I told him about Casey, the little house we rented off of Pinewood, and how it was being overrun with mice.

“You gonna move?” he asked.

“We want to stay in the area, but the house we’re renting…the animals, the shit they leave behind–”

“I know a place that’s goin’ on sale,” Goose said, cutting in. “Right up the road from where yer at.”

My instinct was to tell him how totally unprepared we were to buy a house, how that wasn’t even in the realm of possibility. But he continued before I naysayed.

“You should see this place, it’s amazin’, 8 acres or somethin. Waterfall, creek…boy, it’s beautiful.”

“It has a waterfall?” I said.

“Yeah,” Goose said.

I looked up to the universe now dark and covered in stars and took a swig of my beer. You fucking with me, Universe? You think this is a game? What the universe knew that Goose did not, is that every time I asked Casey what he would want in a house, if we were to buy a house, he would respond by saying, “a waterfall.”  It had become a joke between us because it sounded so impossible. In our minds, waterfalls were for the rich and extravagant and we could barely manage the job thing. No, neither a house nor a waterfall seemed like they were on our horizon.

“Well how much is this house with a waterfall and a creek?” I asked.

“Oh, not too bad,” Goose said. “Maybe one-sixty or two-sixty?”

I had no idea what kind of house we could afford if we could afford a house at all, but the price range sounded low and right and I knew I had to see it.

When Casey showed up at Puckett’s not long thereafter, I made Goose tell Casey what he had told me. I watched Casey’s eyes drift from Goose’s face to my face with a look that attempted to communicate that I needed a reality check, but I chose not to understand and held on to my growing enthusiasm.

“So where is it?” Casey asked.

I hear Casey’s skepticism and wanted to explain to him that the universe was with us! It was back! Perhaps the jolt from bad life events to good life changes was too sudden for Casey. Or perhaps Casey was less impressed with Goose’s mythical-being-esqueness, than I was.

“Not to far from where yer at,” Goose said. “Just down on Pinewood til you get to Shoals Branch, and it’s right there, when the road dips hard. It’s right there.”

“It’s right there!” I said to Casey. “And it has a waterfall! Just like you dreamed!”

“I do like waterfalls,” Casey said. But even as he said it, he looked like a man who’d lost a battle he hadn’t known he was fighting.

That weekend we took a drive following Goose’s directions. We drove down Pinewood. We turned on Shoals Branch. We waited for the road to dip hard. We drove 2 miles down Shoals, then 5, but the road never dipped.

We asked of each other things like, “Was that a dip?”

And answered each other with the same uncertainty.”Yeah, but not a hard dip. Right?”

We drove side roads thinking maybe there was one more turn, but nothing matched his description.

We drove home, me defeated, Casey probably hoping that I would take this whole thing as a sign and forget about wanting to buy a house.

But I did not forget. A couple days later I saw Goose again and told him what had happened.

“How far did y’all drive?”

“We drove, a long ways. Maybe 5 miles.”

“Just keep goin’, it’s there.”

“But you said it was right there.”

“It is, a ways down the road. It’s right there.”

(This is when I learned that “right there” out in the country could mean anything between right there and really far away.)

At this point, I didn’t care where the house was or how far down the road we’d have to drive. My gut and the universe, and my blind faith in Goose, told me that this was the house. Without even doing a drive by, I got us pre-approved for a mortgage, found a broker and made an appointment to do a walk through. I think Casey was surprised (and perhaps concerned about my ability to reason and process logical thoughts) by how quickly I jumped into action. I didn’t know anything about anything when it came to buying something this big, but I was driven by the waterfall and the creek and the 8 acres or somethin’ that Goose had described.

I’m going to go ahead and say I was right about my putting my faith in all of those things. The land was magical–an old farm with a milking shed, an old log cabin style barn and large open field on one side, the waterfall and creek on the other. And when we walked into the house, and Casey checked his phone to see how the wifi worked, one network popped up and its name was Goose. Of course it was.

We bought the house, both of us convinced we had to live in this place. Perhaps for different reasons. Now, as I write this, I’m sitting on our big back porch, listening to the sound of the waterfall in the distance. Sometimes I still cannot believe we’re here, living in Tennessee, working jobs we like in Tennessee, and even owning a small piece of Tennessee. It’s crazy. I can’t wrap my head around it. I guess that’s just how it goes. Maybe in a year from now I’ll be above the law. I’d call bullshit, but hey, with Goose and the universe on my side, it could happen.

-Molly Morgan Black-

The Rainy Season, The Killing Season

Dear Blog,

The winter ended in rain. The spring began in rain. Mice took shelter in the cabinets and drawers of my kitchen, munching on forgotten Halloween candy, shitting on spatulas and in mixing bowls. I killed them, one after another. Some peacefully, one in a way that is painful to remember. And I remember. One of the mice we found dancing in our kitchen sink on a cold and early morning. He was trying to jump out, his hind legs propelling him with a mighty, though still mouse-like force, toward the lip of the sink, yet he was too small to make the leap. Though he may not have recognized his good fortune at the time, he was the one and only mouse who got away. Scooping him into an empty Parmesan cheese container (appropriate isn’t it?), we drove him down Pinewood Road and then Old Hillsboro Road, past Leiper’s Fork, and left him at a Protestant church. (He seems to deserve a children’s book, doesn’t he? Charlie the Church Mouse, perhaps.)

Now that I’ve come home from Ireland and have a few night’s test sample, I think the scratching in the walls and ceiling and pull-out drawers of my bed has stopped. Though I would not go as far as to say “once and for all.” I’m pretty sure that is not a thing where I live.

As the winter ended in rain and the spring began in rain and I killed the mice one by one, I did not write. I did not write because every time I sat down to write my brain was empty and my words were too. The South was not interesting to me and I was not interesting to me either. That is not to say that this place has become normal to me, or that I have become normal here. The strange happenings and my awkward ability to navigate them persist. Yes indeed, this place still elicits my proverbial rubbernecking almost every day.

Example:

It is a week before I’m leaving for Ireland and my co-workers are sitting around the lunch table discussing the true crime shows they watch. I’ve never seen a true crime show, at least that I could label as such, but their descriptions of the horrific events that these shows reimagine are enough to prevent me from ever thinking to seek one out. So, my co-workers are discussing serial rapists, and murderers, and people who dismember other people and store the body parts in their freezers with fascination and horror as they eat their microwaved meals. And somehow at this point in time the conversation strikes me as relatively normal, something to speak about amongst everyday acquaintances, like the weather forecast or the upcoming weekend. But then a woman I work with interjects.

“You know what these people need?” she asks.

The table is quiet. Psychiatric assessment, jail time, increased regulation on chain saws? I think to myself.

“Jesus,” she says. “If these people had Jesus these things wouldn’t happen.”

Jesus?! I internally scream. What does that even mean? And even if that was a reasonable suggestion, could a serial murderer or dismemberer even “have” Jesus? Aren’t those kind of people perhaps a bit beyond that option?

I’ve learned not to look around at others as though the crazy thing that has just been said, is crazy, while I, on the other hand, am in the inner circle of rationality. Because down here, I’m not. In this moment I know it’s a good thing I’d learned this too, because every other person at the table is nodding their head.

“That’s true,” they say. “Good point,” they say.

“In a nation that kills babies, anything is possible,” another co-worker adds.

(Cue my proverbial rubbernecking.) More heads nod, more people agree.

Is this group of people I work with and talk with and joke with every day really in complete agreement that abortion and people who dismember people and put the pieces in their freezer are somehow related? Though my face is frozen calm I am bewildered. I get up and leave.

No, this place has not become normal to me, and I have not become normal here.

Being the token liberal, the girl without religion in a hiding, the yankee, the once-Oregonian had it’s charms. I was mysterious, hard to nail down, the subject of questioning and the offerer of riddles instead of answers. But then it became real. As winter pushed on into March and then April and the rain kept coming down and the mice kept coming into our house no matter how many I killed or how much shit I cleaned off of spatulas and out of mixing bowls, I started to realize that I actually lived in Tennessee, that the life I was playing at each day was my real life, that I was both misunderstood and afraid of being understood, and that when I wondered if I was happy I didn’t know the answer but was pretty sure that no, I was not. And so I didn’t write, because I couldn’t be funny or observational or interested or interesting. I was instead busy being dropped into the middle of a personal crisis that I had perhaps been having for sometime. A crisis that had been masked by my attempts to find it oh so funny.

(You know, it doesn’t even rain that much here. It’s dryer than Oregon, more mild than New York. In truth, it rains so little that a man at my work celebrates rainy days by ordering Chinese food for lunch for any enthusiastic participant that wants in. And yet somehow every day became Chinese day and Chow Mien noodles became a bad omen for the future I was destined to live out – mouse murderess who once fancied herself a writer.)

As the winter ended in rain and the spring began in rain and I killed mouse after mouse, and my co-workers ate Chow Mien, I waited for New York and I waited for Ireland. I waited for a break from the reality I had just realized was real. I’m four days back now and the trip was exactly what I needed. A mysterious yet functional ending to my crisis. I don’t know what is changing in me but I feel a shift, a spark. I’m not without darkness, but I’m not without light either. I mean, I’ve written something, haven’t I? I don’t even care if it’s good or bad or confusing, or if the people who read this think, Man, I wanted something fun to read and this was just kind of depressing, because it feels good to have my fingers against the keys of my laptop, to be focused, to have something, anything, to say. I think I had to write this to return to some kind of normalcy, to myself. I’ll write the tales of being away from the South in New York and in Ireland this week. For now, this needed to come out of me so I could leave it here and move on.

 

Written by Molly Morgan Black

Skunked

Dear Blog,

It’s 1:30 a.m. this past Monday morning when I awake to sound of screeching. I can hear the scream in my dream, in my waking, in the dark of the room, in the dark behind my eyelids. The sound comes from almost directly beneath the floorboards, underneath the house.

I feel Casey roll toward me. “This is what I was telling you about,” he whispers. “Same thing last night. I think it’s some kind of animal, I think it’s a skunk.”

“What’s happening?” I say. What I mean is, is everything okay? Are we okay?

And then it happens. The screeching stops. Something underneath the house scuttles away. And I start to realize the answer to my own question. We are not okay. We are definitely not okay.

“Casey,” I say, “it is a skunk.”

“What do you mean?” he says.

“Do you smell that?” I ask. And even as I ask this question, I do not yet know the full extent of its answer.

I watch Casey jump out of bed and go into the kitchen. “This is really bad,” I hear him say.

“Oh my god,” I say, sitting up in bed. “It is bad. It’s really bad.”

“Yeah, it’s bad.”

Within the minute I’m holding my computer close, doing all I can not to inhale, swallow, or open my eyes too wide. I search the Interwebs furiously, intent on becoming an expert on what to do if you or your house gets sprayed via online forums written by people who are just as hysterical as I am. Wash in tomato sauce. Spend big monies on professional cleaners. Stat. (Though there’s no guarantee that will work.) Throw all your clothes in a dump far, far away. Throw away all the food in your house. Get rid of the ice in your freezer, it’s ruined.

“Casey!” I yell. “Did you know that the skunk’s spray can permeate through our ice? Our ice! We are so effed!”

“I can’t breathe. I really can’t breathe,” he yells from the other room.

Cover everything in baking soda. Scrub the walls with bleach. Move out. Start over.

I run to the kitchen, covering my face with my hands, pinching my nose. At the bar, Casey is set up with his own laptop, scouring for information, for answers. I throw open the cabinet underneath the sink.

“We have bleach, right?” I push the bottle of Xtra All-Purpose cleaner out of the way. Not strong enough. “How do we not have bleach?” I yell.

“What are you going to do with bleach?” Casey asks.

“Someone said I should wash the walls with it.”

“Who?”

I have no time for that question so I grab a bottle of Windex and some paper towels and run back into the bedroom. I spray and spray and spray until the Windex rains down the walls in heavy drops. I wipe the walls and I spray more but begin to realize that I can’t even smell the normally potent solution. I can only smell the thick stink of skunk and I want to die.

Casey walks into the bedroom, hand to his face, and watches me spraying and wiping, spraying and wiping.

“You’re just bringing a knife to the war,” he says. “It won’t help.”

“What do we do?” I say. I try not to cry.

“Maybe we should go to a hotel.”

“It’s two in the morning. Where will we go?”

“The internet says that the smell is going to get into everything, our clothes, everything,” Casey says. “We at least have to put what we want to wear tomorrow into the car.”

I run to our dresser and pull out jeans, a sweater, a shirt, underwear, smelling everything. “It smells, I think it already smells, I can’t tell, I can’t tell anymore.” I’m so tired. I’m so afraid.

Casey puts our clothes in the car and we decide we must find a way to stay. By all internet accounts this will not be a one-night problem, not a two-night problem, not even a one-week problem, the stink will stay and we will have to find a way to live in it. I throw the bedroom window open and the cold air from outside begins to fill the room. I find a citronella candle under the kitchen sink and light it, placing it on a nightstand. I open jars of bath salts. I take the top off my mouthwash. If it doesn’t smell like skunk, it is my comrade, it is my weapon, it is my friend. I find a lavender sachet and place it next to my pillow.

“It’s freezing,” Casey says.

“I know,” I say, climbing under the blankets, positioning the sachet close to my nose. “But it’s four a.m. and I need to sleep.” I try to lie still. Only with my nose buried in the lavender scent, can I breathe easy. When I move even slightly, the skunk smell suffocates me.

For the rest of the night I keep my eyes closed but I do not sleep. I am alert in the way that I would be if I were anticipating that something bad was about to happen. But it’s already happened, I tell myself. Go to sleep, I tell myself. The worst is here, it cannot get worse than this. And then I breathe, because I must breathe, and I realize that my sachet has moved and that I have just brought skunk air into my lungs and it is terrible.

When I wake up I try to brush my teeth but I can’t. Opening my mouth enough to actually use my toothbrush creates a gag reflex. In the shower I smell my hand and realize that the stink has permeated through my skin. I grab my soap and my loofa and scrub hard, trying to be as rough with my skin as possible, but I can’t tell if it’s working and I’m pretty sure it’s not. When I’m out of the shower I try to blow dry my hair but the heat of the blow dryer heats the smell of stink.

“I hate this,” I yell, wrapping my mostly wet hair into a bun. “We have to leave. We have to get out of here.”

Casey runs, retrieving our clothes from the car, and we dress at superhuman speeds, buttons buttoning themselves, zippers flying closed.

In the car, the smell follows us. There is no relief.

“This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me in my entire life,” I say. I watch as he nods in complete agreement.

The night before the skunk, before our lives changed, we were sitting in a bar, drinking, debating. We’d discussed gun control, the use and abuse of weapons during wartime, my firm belief that violence was never really the answer. And yet this morning, as we drive away from our home, as I smell my hands compulsively, I feel my heart change.

“We need to shoot that skunk,” I say. “It needs to die. I know I just said that I was against guns last night, I know, but this is different, this is totally different.”

“I’d shoot it myself,” Casey says. “I wouldn’t even shoot it, I’d use the gun to beat it to death.”

“That would horrible,” I say. “You’d probably get sprayed again.”

That day I call my landlords, ready to tell them that their house is, perhaps, ruined forever.

“Mike, hi, I’m calling, because, well, I have some terrible news, really terrible news. Here’s the thing, a skunk got under the house, and, well, there was some kind of scuffle, an altercation if you will, and the skunk sprayed, right under the house, and now everything smells, I mean everything smells, the carpets, the walls, the blood flowing beneath my skin––it’s bad, it’s really bad. I’m hearing horror stories on the Internet, Mike, people who’ve had to move out of their houses, people who’ve trapped and then driven skunks miles down the road and away from their homes only to find them burrowed beneath their floorboards a few short weeks later. I mean it’s really bad. What do we do, Mike? What do I do?” I say.

“Oh yeah, that happens,” he says.

“What?” I say.

“Well, it’s the country, there are skunks.”

“We can’t breathe, Mike, I mean, we can’t breathe.”

“Yeah, we had a skunk at the house last summer.”

“You what?”

“There are a couple places I think they might get in, one place under the porch, then there’s a hole on the side of the house, near the bathroom––”

“Holes?”

“Actually, there are traps in the shed, that’s how we got the skunk last summer. Just put some cat food in there––they like that––and I’m telling you, when you wake up tomorrow there will be a skunk in the trap.”

“Cat food?”

“What we did––we have an SUV with a rack on the roof––is just wrap the cage with the trapped skunk in a tarp, stick the cage on the roof of the car, secure it with bungees, and then just drive it on down the road, let it out somewhere a few miles away.”

“You want me to bungee a cage to the roof of my car with a skunk inside?”

“Yeah.”

“Instead of hiring a professional?”

“I mean it’s the country, you don’t really need a professional. And we did it no problem.”

“Uhhh, okay.”

When I relay the conversation to Casey who is at Walmart shopping for everything from baking soda, to scented candles, to pepper spray, he sounds skeptical.

“So we’re not hiring a professional?” Casey asks.

“Mike said something about it being the country and that this happens all the time and that we could do it.”

“What if it sprays us when we put it on the hood of our car.”

“I don’t know. I guess I probably won’t go to work in that scenario.”

“Okay, I’ll get the cat food.”

That night I work until 2:30 in the morning and Casey sets the traps before picking me up. It is 19 degrees out. When we get home at 3:30 a.m. the traps are empty, the cat food presumably frozen. The house smells of sage and citrus and skunk. It is strange but bearable, shockingly bearable.

“Do you think there is a chance that there will be a skunk in the trap tomorrow?” I say, falling into bed.

“No,” Casey says. “Probably not.”

In the morning Casey is right. Apparently skunks don’t like frozen cat food.

Later that day Casey calls me at work. I have slept about six hours in two nights, smell like skunk, and am delirious.

“I found a skunk guy,” he says.

“Mmm,” I say.

“Want to guess his name?”

I pause, trying to think. Skunkman, Sir Skunk, Steve Skunkers. Are these names? Am I a person?

“I’m just going to tell you,” Casey says. “It’s Casey White. How weird is that?”

“That’s weird because you’re Casey Black,” I say.

“Yeah, that’s the point I’m making,” Casey says.

“Mmm,” I say. The cosmic nature of this whole situation starts to sink in. The Black and the White, the colors of the skunk. The connections seem to stop there but still I try to decipher their message.

“Casey has some bad news for us,” Casey continues. “The skunk isn’t being attacked, she’s mating. Apparently it’s the height of the mating season right now.”

“And spraying is part of that?” I say, horrified, confused.

“Apparently when a female skunk doesn’t want to mate with a male she sprays him.”

“So that noise we heard––”

“Yeah.”

“And this could happen again?” I ask, though I already know the answer. It could happen again. “We have to kill the skunk,” I say, now wanting to murder more than I want to sleep. “We can’t have this, we can’t, we can’t live like this anymore.”

“I think Casey will help us,” Casey says.

Today, four days since the worst day of my life, Casey White is coming to our house to start the first of five days of trapping. The house still smells, I’m pretty sure I still smell (I just smelled my hair and it definitely smells like more than my conditioner) and every night I pray that should a male skunk come to mate with the lady skunk under our house that she acquiesces, that she even wants it, that she doesn’t even think about spraying, not even a little bit. I pray too that the noise, the screeching, will not wake me and that if it does it will be quick.

“If this doesn’t work, we’re killing the skunk,” I tell my husband. “I’ll do it myself, I’ll kill it.”

“Okay,” Casey says. “Okay.”

 

Written by Molly Morgan Black

Don’t Get Fat. And Eight Other Resolutions for 2013.

Dear Blog,

When you move to a new place your habits change. It’s inevitable. And the thing about creating new habits and losing old habits is that the gains and losses are not immediately obvious. We don’t see the patterns we’ve formed until they are already in place or miss the patterns we’ve lost until they are good and gone. I’ve been living in the countryside of Tennessee for 4 months and am just now starting to see the ways in which this new life has taken hold of me. The results? Mostly strange. So, given that it’s that time of year, the time when we reflect on how we spent the last year and how we’d like to spend the next (mine being almost certainly spent in The South), it seems appropriate that I go ahead and make some resolutions.

1. Don’t get fat.

Things are okay. For now. I’m 5’5 (almost) and though I don’t know what I weigh (reference last post where the nurse shielded my eyes from the scale), I wear a 0 / xs / 26. I have been what one might call “thin” my entire life. (Except for the year after I lived in South Africa and my face looked like a bloated chipmunk’s. Thank god that was also the year I got my hair cropped short to frame my face. Classic combo.) In NYC this was nothing extraordinary. I wouldn’t even be surprised if the models from the modeling agency that worked in my former building used to refer to me as “that short, chunky girl” after I got out of the shared elevator. Even more likely–I was not worth mention. But, when you can button up a 26 down here, people essentially treat you like you’re Superman (if Superman is a guy who can stuff his face with fried delights and never gain a pound). Almost every day I hear from one co-worker or another, “Ugh, you’re so skinny, it’s not fair, you can eat whatever you want.” As you stand around a platter full of holiday cookies with your co-workers, you can’t help but start thinking, You’re right, I can eat whatever I want, those cookies can’t touch me. I could eat all of the damn cookies on this whole effing platter and I would probably lose weight. Live in this mindset for a few weeks and you realize you’ve become fuzzy on what calories are and how they work. Ca-lo-er-ie? You try to sound out. No comprendes.

But then something happens. One day, after consuming a generous piece of ice cream cake at work, you excuse yourself to the bathroom. You stand before the sink and look at yourself in the mirror (wiping a lingering bit of crusted, sweet red frosting from the corner of your mouth) and the horrible truth hits you: You are not Superman. You might even utter the earth-shattering sentence aloud, startling yourself and the lady in the stall. You suddenly remember you’re thin because you’ve been on what most people would consider a diet your entire life. You don’t drink juice, you don’t drink pop, you don’t eat packaged foods, and wait, don’t you also not eat frostings made out of high fructose corn syrup and food dye?

That night you ask your husband a truly morbid question: Would you rather we become millionaires and I become obese or would you rather I stay thin and we be poor forever?

“So if we get rich, you get fat?” your husband asks.

“Really fat,” you say.

“I guess I would rather we be poor,” he says.

“I’m glad you said that,” you say. “Me too,” you say.

Yep. Something is wrong with me. Mentally-speaking. But hey, if I can’t be Superman, I’d like steer clear of Chipmunkdom too.

2) Get AAA.

I have driven more in the last 4 months than I have in the last 8 years. Needless to say, I’m getting back into the swing of things. And until this last week, it was going pretty well. It was just like riding a bike–I was still a great driver! I’d forgotten nothing!

But then I forgot something. I’ll explain.

I’m at the office and it’s a slow day. And suddenly I have the thought, “If I don’t eat some Thai food, right now, I might die.” And I know there is only one place where I can get truly traditional Thai food and they don’t deliver.

I call The Smiling Elephant and place my order. Ready in ten, you say? I race to my car. When I get to the restaurant I park in back, in a spot that sits directly next to the kitchen. It is kind of a dirty spot–next to the trash bins and the recycling cart–but I don’t care. This spot is the closest to my food. I run up to the restaurant, grab my to-go bag and head back down to the lot, my stomach rumbling. As I near the edge of the building where the parking lot starts, I didn’t see the back of my car. My first thought is, “Someone probably had to move it,” which, if you know anything about cars, doesn’t make any sense. As I round the corner of the building I see my car, but not where I left it. Why would someone move my just a few feet forward, I wonder. What a weirdo. I walk up to the driver’s side and am about to open my door when I realize that between my car and the wall of the restaurant there is a wooden recycling cart. And it is smashed in. Firmly. I look at the cart, the wall, my car and the way the cart’s bottom corner is digging into my Mini’s wheel. I then look at the slope of the parking spot I thought I’d parked in. And it is at this time that two words dawn on me. Emergency. Brake.

IMG_1012

Okay, no big deal. I’ll just turn the car on and back up. And then I will never tell anyone about this, ever. If the car is damaged, (I can’t tell) well, I’ll just tell my husband a hawk flew into the car while I was driving. That shit happens down here.

I get in the car and I put my key in the ignition but it won’t turn. I then notice the steering wheel is locked too. I try the key again. I try again and again and again. I’m trying so hard I think I might break my wrist. Seriously? You fucking modern technology and your fucking emergency lock systems. Turn! Turn on! I hate you I hate you I hate you. The smell of my thai food has filled the car with the smells of garlic and pork and fried egg and fresh, hot rice, and I think about it getting cold, and I want to cry.

I consider calling Casey, but still feel pretty tied to my hawk story and decide against it. I think about calling my dad, because the Mini was once his Mini and I wonder if he knows about a magical button that turns off the emergency lock system. Then I remember AAA and how they will come get you and save you and fix all of your problems. And then I remember something else too, I DON’T HAVE AAA.

Ahhhhhhh!!!!!!

I call my dad.

“Hey, Dad.”

“Hey, Mollo.” (He calls me that sometimes.)

“Nothing’s wrong,” I say.

“Okay…” He says, sounding suspicious.

“It’s just that the car won’t start.”

“Okay….Where are you?”

“Well here’s the thing, it’s weird, I can’t really explain, but I’m kinda in this situation where a cart somehow smashed its way between my car and the side of a restaurant, and the cart is digging its corner into my wheel and if I could just back up everything would be amazing but I can’t because the car has gone into some kind of emergency lock down mode where it won’t turn on, so I guess I’m calling because I’m wondering if you’ve ever been in this situation and know about a magic button that I could press that would turn the emergency lock down off.”

“I haven’t been in that situation.”

“So, there’s no button?”

“Not that I know of.”

How can this be?!!

“Are you okay?”

“Oh yeah, it’s just this crazy cart, I’m fine. I gotta go.”

“Do you have Triple-A?”

“No.”

“You should have that. It’s really useful.”

As I hang up the phone a cook exits the kitchen and lights a cigarette. I jump out of the car, visibly startling him.

“Sir!” I yell. I am so happy to see him. “Something’s happened!” I point at my car and I start trying to explain but he shakes his head at me.

“No English.”

My panic is such that I cannot accept what he has said to me so I speak slower, louder.

“CART STUCK. CAR NO START. HELP ME.”

He shakes his head again and runs inside. I can smell the food emanating out of my open door. I think of just sitting in my car and eating my food and sleeping in this lot when the No-English cook comes back outside with what seems like every other cook from the restaurant.

“Oh my god, thank you! Here’s the thing, my car won’t start, it’s gone into some kind of emergency lock down, but maybe if we–”

And then I realize that every single one of them is shaking their head at me.

“No-English,” they say.

“WHAT?!” I say. I start pushing my car from behind fruitlessly, trying to show them my idea.

“Won’t start, won’t start!” I say. “PUSH!” I say. A few of the cooks head back in side, clearly trying not to smile.

And then I notice a man on the ground. He is looking up under the front of my car.

“Oh my god, do you know where the magic button is?” I say.

The man looks up at me, confused. He stands up, looking at the cart, looking at my wheel.

“Keys,” the man says in a thick hispanic accent, coming around to my side of the car.

“You want my keys?” I say.

He holds out his hand. Who is this guy?

“But the car won’t start,” I say.

He pushes his hand toward me. Why doesn’t anyone speak English?!?! I hand him my keys.

He gets in and the car doesn’t start. “The car won’t start,” I say again.

He nods.

“But maybe we could push?” Even as I say it I don’t think it would work. The man shakes his head and starts walking away. I look up and notice that on the balcony above me, more cooks from the restaurant have come out to watch. I am shocked by how many employees this little restaurant has.

“Thanks, everybody,” I say to no one in particular.

I watch the hispanic man walk towards the other end of the lot. I watch him walk into a backdoor. And then I look up. And I see the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life. It is a sign. “Auto-Body Repair Shop.”

“Is he a mechanic?” I say to the Thai cooks.

The No-English guy points at the sign I have just seen and smiles.

As you may have just now guessed I was saved by the Hispanic man. And the outcome was this: My car had essentially no damage and it’s taken me ’til now to tell the whole story. Now even though I don’t believe in fate or karma or signs (other than the physical kind) I really feel that I will not get this lucky again. I mean how many times do you forget to use your emergency brake on a slope, glide easily into a cart (instead of a wall or another car, say) right outside of an auto-body repair shop, incur no damage and still make it back to the office before your incredible Thai lunch is cold? Once. Just the once. So, AAA, here I come.

3) Replace walking with something.

In New York you walk. You walk a lot. I, for one, walked a lot, a lot. If a destination was less than 2 miles away I wanted to walk. If I would take less than an hour, I wanted to walk. If a friend wanted to grab a coffee, I would say, “Let’s get coffee and walk.”

Now I live in The South and I can’t really walk anywhere. Not, at least, as a practical mode of transportation. And though it may seem as though there is an obvious solution to my problem spelled out with three simple letters–G.Y.M.–I really hate exercise. At least, time-set-aside exercise. One of the best days of my life was back in 2008 when I got really sick and couldn’t go on my 6-mile run because it was on that day that I realized I never wanted to go on my 6-mile run ever again. I still look back on the time when I was a runner and think, “Wow, what was wrong with me?” It’s not that I don’t like movement (reference first paragraph, third resolution), but I don’t ever want to dedicate two hours a day, five days a week to doing it. No, sir.

Remember that book, “French Women Don’t Get Fat”? I never actually read it, but I assumed it was about how French women eat whatever they want (because French food is naturally pretty healthy), walk a lot, and thereby stay in good shape. I consider my concept of that book to be a pretty good outline for how I want to live my life. And yet I live in Tennessee, not France. How do I do this? Seriously, I’m asking. For the most part there aren’t sidewalks and when I did try walking in the country where I live, I worried the whole time that an oncoming car would knock me off the road and leave me for dead in a ditch. I’d like my replacement to walking to feel slightly safer than that. Suggestions! Come one, come all!

4) Start saying “y’all.”

I’ve dabbled in “y’all,” but really haven’t committed to using it. I don’t know why. I decidedly like the phrase. Contractions are great! Where would we be without “can’t” “shouldn’t” “won’t” and “who’dunit?” I think it’s time I make room for one more, y’all.

5) Fess up to not really being Jewish.

As questions about my spirituality have come up down here, I’ve dodged answering them by talking about other people in my family.

“My mother was raised Jewish.”

“Oh, you’re Jewish?”

“Well, my mother’s parents, my grandparents, were Jewish.”

“So do you go to Synagogue?”

“No.”

“Sorry, I’m confused–”

Someone who overheard this conversation later wished me a Happy Hanukkah. Even though Hanukkah was already over I said, “Thanks!” appreciating the gesture. I now realize that this may not have been the right response to clarifying that I’m not really Jewish. Gotta work on that.

6) Become a Vietnamese chef.

My favorite kind of cuisine, if I was really pressed to name one, is Vietnamese. Give me some Pho, vermicelli noodles, fried rice, and pork and I am a very happy camper. (Thai, as you can imagine is a close second.) I used to go to this hole in the wall in the West Village for my Vietnamese fix. Down here, I’m sunk. For Christmas I asked for a cookbook called Vietnamese Home Cooking and shockingly enough my food-obsessed mother delivered. The second I opened the book I knew that if anyone asked me about my religion henceforth I could easily say “Vietnamese food,” because this book is a bible I can believe in. (Resolution #5. Done and done.) So, my plan this year is to become a master of this book. It won’t be easy. Apparently just to make the chicken broth I have to find 8 pounds of chicken neck bones. Hm. Time to dig up some southern charm and make nice with a butcher.

7) Not be seen as a dick.

Since moving here, I’ve become accustomed to people giving me a look I’ve come to call The WTFAH. It stands for, “What The F**K, Ass Hole?” The look is the perfect combination of two sentiments: I don’t know what you’re talking about and You’re a dick.

Here are a few examples of things that I have said that have elicited this look:

1) “So, what’s you’re husband? Is he a Christian?”

“No, he’s kinda like the opposite of a Christian.”

“You mean, spiritual?”

“No. Like, the opposite of spiritual.”

2) “I wasn’t really sure if I should capitalize ‘with’ or not, so I just did.”

“Well, one rule, which is pretty easy to remember, is that if it’s a preposition and it’s in a title, don’t capitalize it.”

3) “Do you want to get Wendy’s? We’re all ordering lunch from there.”

“No, I’m good. I brought my lunch.”

“What’d you bring?”

“Just some bok choy and pork buns.”

Silence.

“It’s like, traditional Chinese food.

Silence.

“It’s good. I’ll show you. ”

“I know what Chinese food is.”

You get the point. I say things, I get The WTFAH look, I’m a dick. And it’s like everything I say makes me a dick. I mean, who knew that using the word “preposition” made me a dick? And what’s wrong with a Jew marrying a non-spiritual, non-Christian? (Sorry, still working on Resolution #5.) Either way, I gotta find a new approach. I’m hoping y’all will help.

8) Stop sleeping weird.

This has nothing to do with living in The South, but recently I have been sleeping really weird. Like, with my arm wrapped around my head. Right now my shoulder is killing me and it’s definitely because I slept on it all crazy for the last three nights. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to stick to this resolution because I’ve never tried to will my subconscious into do something starting on a particular date, but I’m optimistic.

9) Quit eating fried food.

This may seem like a reprise of my first resolution, but it’s not. I would never give up fried food to lose weight. But I have to give it up all the same. I have this pesky, chronic intestinal disease called ulcerative colitis and pretty much every Gastroenterologist will tell you DO NOT EAT FRIED FOOD. ALL CAPS. PERIOD. I have committed to not eating other toxic foods like popcorn and fresh tomatoes, but fried food has always been one of those things that I just can’t deny myself. However, I live in The South now and fried food is EVERYWHERE. And it’s amazing. So, if I don’t quit now and I stay in Tennessee like I’m planning, well, I will probably die. No, I’m kidding. But I will wish I was dead because my body will hate me. So, starting Jan 1, I am officially going to cross fried food off the list of things I eat. I’m serious. I’m going to do it. And, Vietnamese Gods, I’m really going to need you guys to be my cheerleaders on this, it will not be easy. Please let my willpower be prosperous, courageous, and steadfast. Or something like those things.

Well, y’all, I guess that’s it. I’ll let y’all know how it goes. (Not putting my money on #5 or #9.)

Happy and safe 2013!

Written by Molly Morgan Black

Dear The South, I Give Thanks to You

Dear Blog,

I’m not sure why, but this week I suddenly got the urge to write about all of things about the South that I am thankful for. Maybe it was the warm and sunny week we’ve been having or the election being over…I can’t quite pinpoint it. Either way…

I’m thankful for being able to pet my neighbor’s horses without ever having to see the human’s who own them.

I’m thankful for space, for land, and for people owning a lot of it and staying tucked back on their property. I’m thankful that I can’t really see my neighbors and that they can’t really see me. (My one and only true neighbor is a really nice, really old lady, who has only said hi once and otherwise keeps to herself. I love her.) It’s not that I hate people or even dislike them, but it’s nice to come home to some solitude.

I’m thankful for the ladybugs that are taking residence in my home. Would I prefer if they were outside my house instead of inside my house? Yeah. But do I like them more than the wasps from late summer that found their way into our kitchen and terrorized me as I tried to make my coffee? Yes, yes I do. I would also take the ladybugs of Leiper’s Fork over the super-sized roaches of New York City any day. If only the ladybugs weren’t such damsels in distress–slipping on drops of water in the shower, landing on their backs, kicking their legs, telepathically whimpering, help me! help me! don’t let me drown! as I scoop them to safety and, so focused on my mission, forget all about rinsing the shampoo out of my hair. Point is, if I am to share my home with the creatures of this great Earth, I welcome the ladybug. Come one, come all!

I’m thankful for this meal, which I just ate a couple hours ago.

I’m thankful for fried catfish, fried chicken, fried pork chops, fried green beans, mac and cheese, turnip greens, collard greens, cornbread, biscuits and all the other delicious foods that southerners do right (even if they are making my pants a little snug).

I’m thankful for the nurse at the doctor’s office last Wednesday who helped me shield my eyes while she weighed me.

“It’s just that now that I live here I drive instead of walk, and there is all of this fried food, and I haven’t weighed myself since I’ve been down here, and–”

“Don’t worry sweetie, look the other way, good, now that’s better, I’m just going to write this down, and…done! It’s all over, you can open your eyes.”

I’m thankful for, or starting to be thankful for, the phrase, “y’all.” It’s not that I use it, at least not without blushing and giving away that I’m not southern, but all the same, I’m really starting to see its merits. One, it’s gender neutral, making it more useful and P.C. than the northern “you guys,” and two, it’s a contraction so it’s nice and short. In France, when I was teaching, I was grateful for the personal pronoun “vous,” because I could address my whole class easily and efficiently without having to say “girls and boys,” or “Hey, all you assholes, quiet the F down!” It was just the nice, simple, and unfireable, “vous.” It is said that “vous” doesn’t have an English equivalent, but now that I live in the south and hear “y’all” everyday, I have come to realize that “y’all” might as well be the French “vous.” Its usage is identical. (Can’t say the same for “all y’all” or “all y’alls,” those are just no-doubt-about-it bad grammar.) Coincidence that the Cajun French and “y’all” both come from the south? I don’t think so.

Isn’t she lovely? Isn’t she wond-er-ful…? Isn’t she precious? (I’m thankful for that song, but more for the car.)

I’m thankful for the Mini. For driving expeditions down country roads. For the freedom to belt out Taylor Swift tunes to no one’s annoyance. For turning the heat up and rolling the windows down. For a trunk where you can put things like groceries and suitcases. For knowing my form of transportation will be there no matter how late at night or how early in the morning. For being just as reliable on weekends and holidays as she is Monday through Friday. For never forcing me to take special routes that lead me in the opposite direction of my intended destination. For never giving rides to crazy people or proselytizers. Mini, I don’t care that you’re contributing to my fatness, you not being the subway makes you everything I ever dreamed of.

I’m thankful for Sean and Jennifer and their Churchill Downs’ style.

I’m thankful for our neighboring state, Kentucky, and how their horse races make gambling seem classy. I’m thankful to our southern friends, Sean and Jennifer, for inviting us to spend Thanksgiving betting on horses with them and their family, and I’m thankful for Infrattini, Brushed By A Star, and Roman Along–the horses who prevented me from losing all my money.

I’m thankful for the possibility of winning and the fire that fuels inside of me.

I’m thankful to have a job so that I can save up and head back to Kentucky where I plan on doubling my money, no problem. I’m thankful for optimism, for knowing I can win, for “feeling” it, for superstition, and for the fact that if you never change your socks your chances of winning improve. (Dirty socks? Check.) Plus, I’m feeling good. Big money.

I’m thankful for never succumbing to any addictive tendencies.

I’m thankful for the blond horse and the little mule who live down the road. I drive past them every day. They are always grazing their pasture together. Side by side. They fulfill a need some people can only find on the Facebook feeds of people who post cute animal pictures.

I am thankful to my husband for letting me dress him in my clothes and then post the evidence.

I’m thankful for my husband, one because I love him, like, a lot, (go ahead Sha-ron, you can groan now and wish you’d never thought to read my blog) two, because he made leaving New York possible*, and helped me find a home in the most unlikely of places, and three, because now that he works at a wine and liquor store we have more alcohol around the house.

(*Dear New York, I’m really crapping all over you in this blog post, which is unfair because I love you, but I have to admit that I am thankful that I don’t live in you anymore.)

I am thankful for my family–my mother, my father, my brother–who love me enough to come to Tennessee this Christmas. I am thankful that they will get to see where I live and why I love where I live. I’m also thankful that my parents will pay for all the meals and booze, and that I have crazy scrabble skillz, cuz I’ll be whooping their arses.

And finally, I am thankful for you, Blog, who accepts and publishes whatever I write. I am also thankful for the people reading. I have been really surprised by each blog post’s volume of readers and hope this means that I write worthy things now and again. Please don’t hesitate to leave comments, challenge the things I say, or ask me to write about something that interests you for a change. (Plus, I need the material.)

Okay blog, enough already, eat some leftover pie and let me get back to napping. (Another thing I am thankful for.)

 

Written by Molly Morgan Black

Lessons in How to Silence Yourself

Dear Blog,

As a writer I have two rules for myself. 1) Write. 2) Never censor myself. As a person I’d like those same rules to apply. The latter has never really been a problem. For one, I have a terrible tendency to say whatever I’m thinking and for two, I’ve pretty much always lived in a place where my opinions have lived in easy harmony alongside the leftward leaning majority. And being in the majority, I have learned in retrospect, gives you a voice.

When I moved I did not consider what it would feel like to be a liberal without religious beliefs living in Tennessee during the presidential elections. Perhaps that’s because I’ve only been exposed to one kind of political climate. A climate of open discussion and lively debate where the exchange of opinions and ideas was normal, encouraged. This is not to say that the discussion was fueled by the safety of sameness of opinion–I have had no shortage of conversations with people who do not see eye to eye with me–instead it was fueled by the understanding that we could accept and respect each others’ differences and continue to carry on the same relationship we’d had before. In a city like New York you would find yourself very alone if you begrudged everyone who saw the world from a different lens than your own.

With the understanding that Nashville was a small, but still somewhat metropolitan town, I think I expected to find a similar climate to the one I knew so well. Sure, the tables would turn, and I would be a minority here, but I saw that as a challenge I could easily face. And I was excited by the idea of hearing not pundits’, not Fox News’, but real people’s arguments and reasonings as to why they believe what they believe. Isn’t that how we grow and learn and better shape our understanding of where we stand and why we stand there? It was to be different but great. My ears were open.

But then there was silence. Not like the silence I praised two blog posts ago. An uneasy silence. A don’t-go-there silence. The Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates passed by at work without comment, without mention. And I felt something I had never felt before–the danger of speaking, of questioning, of discussing. A feeling that someone might find out I had liberal beliefs or that I was not religious made me uneasy. I kept quiet.

Even asking questions as simple as, “How was your weekend,” began to feel too personal for the workplace.

“Oh ya know, I was tied up with church stuff,” a coworker would respond.

“Fun,” I would say.

“And you?”

These questions seemed to me like some kind of test.

“Good. Ya know. Good.”

Keep it vague, I would tell myself.

And then one day, a couple days before the election, a question came from a female coworker. Direct. Impossible to dodge.

“You’re a conservative, right?”

“Um…” I collected my thoughts and readied myself for honesty. “No,” I said.

“You’re not? I would have thought you were…”

“I’m about a liberal as they get,” I said. Too far. “At least…socially.” Not better.

With my heart rate already at an all-time high, my boss ran from her office into the open space where we were talking, a serious look upon her face.

Please let this be about something else, please let this be about something else…I scanned the space for escape routes.

My boss looked right at me. “You know, you could get shot for saying that,” she said. “I’m not kidding. You talk like that around here, you could get shot.”

Glass window to my left, ground floor, if I fling my body hard enough–

“Maybe not in Nashville,” she continued, “but out where you live, in the country, you could get shot.”

I looked up at her. A wave of relief shivered through me. I might have even smiled. I was not to be murdered at my place of work.

“Oh,” I said trying to be calm. “Well, I didn’t put up an Obama sign at my house or a bumper sticker on my car or anything like that,” I said.

“Good,” she said. “Don’t.” There was no humor in her voice, only concern. “Seriously, don’t.”

It was the first semi-political conversation I’d had with anyone at my place of work, and before it even got mildly specific it was shut down with one very direct takeaway message–shut my mouth back up, this was not a safe environment.

“I won’t,” I said, though I didn’t know what it meant for me to be agreeing to silence, to personal censorship. Could I no longer have a voice or an opinion if it didn’t align with the culture of my new hometown?

Two days after the election I had a coffee date with a girl I’d met in Nashville. Though it was a cool day, we sat outside. When she asked me about my religion I dodged the question by saying that my dad was a Quaker.

“So he’s Amish?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “Not at all.”

“So he’s not like the guy on the oatmeal, with the hat?” she asked. Though she laughed, I knew that she genuinely didn’t know the answer to her question.

“No, my dad is not like the guy with the hat,” I said.

“Does he use electricity?”

“Okay, let me try to explain.” I looked for an analogy. “You go to church, like a Christian church?” I asked. I asked it as though it were a rhetorical question, assuming she would nod her head and I would continue. Instead she leaned in close and lowered her voice though there was no one around.

“Actually, I’m an atheist,” she said.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t both surprised and relieved. It’s not that I have anything against religion, it’s simply that I had not only grown to believe that I was relatively alone in being faithless, but also that if anyone who I didn’t know very well discovered I wasn’t a Christian it might not be okay. Her admission to me, her confiding in me, made me wonder if I was that dangerously transparent, yet in that moment I didn’t care.

“I guess I’m an atheist too,” I said. “But I don’t use that word. In the same way that we don’t have to define ourselves as not believing in ghosts or reincarnation, I don’t define myself as not believing in God, it’s just not something that is a part of my life.”

“I don’t tell people at work,” she said. “I avoid the whole subject.”

“Do you think that’s necessary?” I asked. I knew I was asking for myself.

“I have really good relationships with everyone I work with,” she said. “I think that would change if they knew. I think they would treat me differently.”

“Really?” I said, my liberal upbringing trying to tell me this couldn’t possibly be the case.

“Yes,” she said. “Yes, it would definitely change.”

I tried to process that conversation all day. I’m still trying to process it as I write it down. I think about Rita Bourke’s shot-up Obama sign from my previous post and I wonder what would have happened if that armed vandal had been just a little more aggressive, just a little more angry. Does that kind of threat warrant silence? Is it better to just play it safe? I’ve never lived in a place where my personal views and beliefs could impact me negatively, where it was encouraged to keep quiet instead of speak out. Even writing this post feels like I’m taking some kind of risk. And I already know that as soon as I post it I will have that feeling I had before. Too far. I’ve gone too far. I will rewrite my words in my head and wonder if I could have made this post more subtle or written it without disclosing any of my personal opinions or beliefs. But ultimately, as I writer, I have two rules for myself. 1) Write. 2) Never censor myself. And that is what I’ve done.

So, here goes.

Written by Molly Morgan Black

Election Day Dos and Don’ts (for the liberal outsider living in Tennessee)

DO: Vote for the candidate of your choice (even if he is a hippie, liberal socialist who supports gay marriage and women’s rights).

DON’T: Put up a sign supporting your candidate of choice (if he is a hippie, liberal socialist who supports gay marriage and women’s rights) unless you’re ready to take on the armed opposition. (Do: Attempt to buck up for the next election season.)

Rita Bourke, owner of the sign below, writes to me, “My neighbors across the street and two houses down suffer along with me. Their signs get stolen and defaced along with mine, and they replace them on a regular basis.”

Note that the sign has been shot up, probably by a pellet gun.

Photo Courtesy of Rita Bourke – Tennessee Resident

DO: Refrain from discussing the election at work, even if you’re bursting at the seams. (Do refresh fivethirtyeight incessantly and play the 512 Paths to the White House game. It’s fun.)

DON’T: Lie about where you stand on anything, if asked. (Okay, I’ve downplayed…but I’m working on it.)

DON’T: Get discouraged that Nate Silver predicts that there is a 100% likelihood that Romney will win Tennessee. (‘Cause he will.)

DO: Be thankful that Tennessee is not going to decide this election.

Larger discussion on being a liberal in the south this coming weekend.

Written by Molly Morgan Black

The Music City: Part II

Dear Blog,

A few weeks backs Casey and I took the long way home from the grocery store. We drove down country roads, winding past open expanses of land, red- and orange-leafed trees, and watched the sky turn dark with dusk. A Prairie Home Companion played softly on the radio. One minute we listened, one minute we dreamed. Let’s build a house right there, right there in the middle of that open field. Garrison Keillor’s slow, familiar voice introduced his musical guest of the week and we listened once again. He introduced 24-year-old John Fullbright from Oklahoma. And then the music began. A piano. A rough and perfect voice. A melody that reminded me of nothing at all. Our voices turned off. Casey turned the volume up. The sun sank farther down the side of a hill.

In my dreams, I see a fat man / on his face is a frown / he’s got money, in his left hand / in his right, he’s got strings that run all over town / as he pulls, on them tightly / he chokes all, all that grows / he keeps watch day and nightly / and plucks life, like a rose…

Fullbright’s music took us almost all the way home. And between Casey and I there was silence. The kind of silence that is electric. Unthinkable to break. The kind of silence that is required to experience something so new and exciting and reinvigorating that it reminds me why I owe it to myself and my life to create and write and be better.

A week later we saw a flyer in a coffee shop just off of music row. John Fullbright was coming to town. There are shows that have come and gone that I have wanted to see and missed. This would not be one of them. He was playing on a Thursday night at a small venue called the Basement and again on Friday. When Casey discovered Friday’s concert was a house show, he booked our tickets for that night.

House shows are a relatively new thing and are exactly what they sound like–a show in someone’s house. They are great for many reasons. They put more money into the pocket of the musician, they are intimate, they are hosted by people who are passionate about the artists playing and about small acts in general, you can easily meet the person you have paid to see, and they often create an open dialogue between the audience members who have come out to see the show. This house show, hosted by a young guy named Larry who lives out in Brentwood was no exception. In a living room / kitchen area that should have accommodated no more than sixty people, the room packed in about a hundred, each person happily sacrificing personal space to make room for another guest. Young twenty somethings sat crossed legged, lining the carpet that designated the stage. Knees touched knees, touched knees, touched knees. And Larry, the creator of what is called the Cause A Scene house show series, was so many things–gracious, speechless, grateful, wowed, overwhelmed, and completely in awe of both acts that played at his house that night and the support of the listeners who had turned out in full force. The music that was played and the enthusiasm of the audience warranted all of these emotions and more.

At then end of the show Casey introduced himself to John Fullbright and told him it was one of the best live performances he’d ever seen. John laughed the compliment off, telling Casey he should get out more. But the truth was, it was one of the best shows either of us had ever seen. Beyond the music, there was an overwhelming sense that almost everyone there knew they were partaking in something great and important. When the silences fell as the musicians performed it was as though the silence from my country drive with Casey had been transported into that room. It was a rare and special thing.

As a show-goer In New York two things about the music scene had begun to wear on me. The first was that it was very difficult to get people excited about going out to see live music. I would say that this came from band saturation, but the same is true here. I often felt people went to shows out of a sense of duty or obligation, as a favor, rather than out of sincere interest. The second was that when people did come out to shows they often talked all the way through them. What did it mean that a room full of adults couldn’t pause their conversation for a forty-five minute set? In those rare moments when I would hear a beautiful lyric or a beautiful voice or a beautiful song–the kinds of lyrics or voices or songs that make you think about your life in the way John Fullbright’s music has recently made me think about mine–I would look around and wonder if there was even one other non-musician in the room sharing that experience with me. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

I don’t know what makes Nashville different. But I know that it is. Perhaps it is the fact that people moved here or stayed here because this is indeed the music city, because they don’t want to miss the next lyric, or voice, or song that might change them, inspire them and make them be better. All I know is that the things that silence you, that force you to listen, are sacred, and that I am lucky to be experiencing those silences here.

If you want to find out more about Cause A Scene follow them on Twitter @causeasceneblog or on Facebook at Cause A Scene Music

And if you want to check out John Fullbright (which you totally do) go to http://www.johnfullbrightmusic.com/music/ he is also on twitter @johnrfullbright

 

Written by Molly Morgan Black

The Music City: Part I

Dear Blog,

They call it the music city. Nashville, that is. Before I moved here I thought that moniker came from the country music industry. And it’s not that I was wrong. Almost everyday I drive down music row, past the music labels, past the performing rights agencies (ASCAP, BMI), past the banners that celebrate a writer and his or her newest #1 single on the country charts, and even as I pull into the parking lot of my office building, I see a billboard for Taylor Swift’s newly released album, “Red,” sitting atop our agency’s roof. Never have a lived in a place where a single industry so clearly marks its territory. So, no, I wasn’t wrong. It’s just that I had no idea how far beyond the country music industry that label extends itself, how much more there is than the songs you hear on country radio, how this city is so densely populated with musicians, instrumentalists, singers, writers, sound engineers, pluggers, promoters, scene-makers, and devotees. And even the Nashvillians who wouldn’t put themselves in any of those categories, most likely still know how to play an instrument or two. (And I’m not including people like me who know five chords on the guitar and sing songs at their spouses about doing the dishes or wanting a cup of coffee.)

The first time I reconsidered my understanding of the nickname “The Music City,” was on a warm Thursday night in Leiper’s Fork just two weeks after we’d moved here. It was at Puckett’s (grocery store / beer bar / music venue) weekly open mic. The venue was packed and based on what I’d been told, I knew I could expect to hear some pretty good country music. As Casey and I sat at the bar and sipped our local brews the night’s host welcomed the crowd and introduced the first act–a thirteen-year-old boy with soft cheeks and small hands. That’s cute, I thought, nervous for him as I remembered my own middle school talent show–a friend watching his fingers and slowly moving between chords on a parent’s guitar as he played some classic tune like “Here Comes the Sun” or, even worse, me and my friends singing pop songs with cracks in our voices, attempting to remember the choreography we’d come up with ourselves. Don’t worry, kid, I wanted to tell the boy, we all remember what it was like.

But then he began to play. His small fingers kissed and strummed the strings of his guitar with no discernible effort, his voice was controlled, and his song, which he’d written on his own, was good and fast and funny and original. He reminded me of Taylor Swift when she was first starting out, in the sense that he sang so honestly about being his own age it seemed he’d transcended the few years he’d lived. Well, I guess I didn’t remember what that was like.

When he was followed by another thirteen-year-old, this time a lanky girl with long, untamed curls, who was equally skilled on the guitar, equally in control of her voice, and equally original, my understanding of what was happening at this open mic, and more importantly, in this town, shifted yet again. Is this…normal? I wondered.

Last Friday, the shoot for Casey’s new music video began and the first location was in our backyard. Joey, the director, had wrangled up seven teenagers for the scene. They were to hang out around a campfire in our backyard and do the things teenagers do in a situation such as this–roast marshmallows, play guitar, and sing songs. As the teenagers headed outside, ready for the scene to begin, Joey was asked, “Do any of them know how to play the guitar?” and Joey, a Nashville native, replied, “Oh, I’m sure one of them does.” As it turned out, not only did a few of these kids know how to play the guitar, they advised each other on chord progressions for songs they were trying to remember. “Doesn’t it go G, C, D7, G?” One girl said to her boyfriend when he got stuck trying to remember a tune by Leonard Cohen.

As the boy nodded, picking back up with the song and the strumming and their singing continued, my eyes stayed fixed on this young girl. Seriously? Is every single kid in this town some kind of musical prodigy?

Perhaps my reaction to this girl and her posse of musically inclined friends seems over the top. Perhaps you want to tell me to calm the eff down, I mean for goodness sakes, the girl knows the notes to a song. What’s the big deal? But to me this wasn’t just a big deal, it was mind blowing. No, I wasn’t raised in a cave. And it’s not like we didn’t have access to instruments, or record shops, or music lessons in Portland, Oregon, where I grew up. It’s not like my childhood friends didn’t talk about music or didn’t see shows, but from my experience music just wasn’t so ubiquitously or well studied. And sure, my friends and I sat around and sang when someone had a guitar on hand and knew how to play “Wonderwall” or something by the Smashing Pumpkins. There were even a small handful of people at my high school who were prodigies when it came to playing the piano or violin or singing operatic vocals. But when it comes right down to it, my lack of childhood and teenage exposure to people my own age creating and experimenting with music led me to believe that my high school boyfriend picking out chords as he sang Tenacious D songs was pretty incredible.

Unlike Nashville, a town that prioritizes music education in public schools with programs such as Music Makes Us, music and the arts just aren’t top priority for the general voting population of Portland, Oregon. Though I was pleased to see a measure called the “Portland City Art’s Task” on this year’s Multnomah County Ballot, posing the question “Shall Portland restore arts, music for schools and fund arts through the income tax of 35 dollars per year?” I was just as quickly dismayed by the fact that my hometown had ever let these programs get cut from the local budget. With Nashville as a new and stark comparison for me, the trickle-down effect on music’s role is the lives of kids is beyond notable.

I focus Part I of this blog post on my exposure to the youth of Nashville’s relationship with music, because unlike adults who get to determine where they live and thereby the culture of their community, children are subject to the influence and culture of their hometowns, whether they love it or hate it, they are shaped by it, and from what I’ve seen, growing up in Nashville means learning and knowing about music on one level or another. And it’s amazing.

More tomorrow 🙂

Written by Molly Morgan Black

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