Sunday, March 16, 2014

Incongruity



I hate to sully the pages of the blog with the photo above, but it struck me today that it's the perfect adornment for the mind creates the abyss, the heart crosses it. Those words are Sri Nisargadatta's -- an Indian philosopher, spiritual teacher and guru, and they appeared in my inbox this morning. When the giant pick-up truck pulled into the parking space a couple spaces over from mine yesterday, I was sitting in the back seat of the car, reading. It was a glorious day in Santa Monica, a quintessential southern California day, and the beach was packed. I had sat in the sun too long the weekend before and gotten a nasty sunburn on my neck and shoulders, so I dropped Sophie and Mirtha off to walk and stretched out in the back seat with my book, the first of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City. When I looked up to muse about my life -- all its incongruities -- the Confederate flag fluttered into view, and I thought at first it was part of a movie shoot. I grew up in the south, and it's not an unfamiliar sight there -- flying stubbornly off of houses and trucks on the backroads of the country with all its menacing history, but on the shimmery coast of southern California, it's virtually unknown. You'll have to forgive my pious intake of breath. The beaches here are public -- the entire coastline is public -- and on a sunny winter day in Santa Monica, the variety of people out enjoying themselves is staggering. There are Latino families and aging surfers, middle-aged women in bikinis on roller-blades, RVs parked in handicapped spaces with stuffed animals hanging off of bumpers and old men in lawn chairs sitting on the roofs of cars. There are families of gods and goddesses, and eighty year old muscle men in tiny bikini shorts. There are tourists who stumble through the light, uncomprehending that this is where people actually live. I have never seen a Confederate flag flying, though, so I got out of the car, curious, and took a picture when I realized it was not a shoot but a real group of people. I confess to wondering what the two dark guys sitting on the concrete barrier where pavement turns to sand thought about it. Someone asked me later whether anyone had said anything, had been anything but passive. I told her that having grown up in the south, I wouldn't mess with those people, the type that fly Confederate flags, that they're mean, mean in the sense of stupidity, obdurate. There's something unfathomable about the obdurate, incongruous.

The mind creates the abyss, the heart crosses it.

There's no but between abyss and heart, only a comma, a pause. I have much that is incongruous in my life right now, some of it unfolding here, much of it unbloggable.  I am at once holding the match, looking over my shoulder -- pause -- and a pile of ashes, smoldering. The Confederate flag -- pause --  blue skies and a rainbow of people, beating hearts, thump. Thump -- pause -- thump.

31 comments:

  1. The "type" that fly Confederate flags? That they're mean, stupid and stubborn? In a blog like this? Wow, surprising.

    A. Dru

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  2. On second look I see that you stated that you'd "never seen a Confederate flag flying" which begs the question, how in 'your experience' do you know anything about the people who fly them? Bigoted statements make one part of the problem rather than the solution, don't you agree?

    As parents of disabled children, it occurs to me that we should be the first to avoid judging what we know little about, and that our time is best spent modeling the example of tolerance and an open mind & heart.

    I'm sure you didn't mean to be unkind, but please remember that words matter.

    A. Dru

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    1. Annie Dru -- I stated that I had never seen a Confederate flag flying out here on the coast of southern California. I grew up in the south and spent more than half my life there, so I did see many a Confederate flag flying. And it IS my experience that those who fly it ARE racist and cling to a part of history that is shameful. As for being "unkind," I don't tolerate the racism and intolerance that the Confederate flag is a symbol of, particularly as the parent of a disabled child.

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    2. Perhaps, too, you could enlighten me in what purpose the Confederate flag flies, as I understand it to be a symbol of white, southern pride and one that has offended tens of millions of people, so much so that except in the rarest of cases, it isn't even hung where the rights of all Americans are protected.

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    3. Oh, and yes, count me in as "part of the problem" if that means I get to call people who openly display such a corrosive symbol as mean.

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    4. With all due respect Elizabeth, I too spent time in the south, and can attest to the fact that the people who fly the Confederate flag are just as complex and multi-fauceted as people anywhere else on the planet. They love and hate, are enlightened and misguided in equal measure to human beings the world over.

      Those who choose to fly the Confederate flag may in fact be clinging to a part of our country's history that has "shameful" elements, but how does that make them different from people who indulge in nostalgia anywhere? The history of all people who've ever walked the earth has shameful elements. It would be foolish to deny that atrocities have been committed under the American flag as well.

      It is not my intention to be an apologist for racism or ignorance, but rather to suggest that name-calling (mean, stupid, etc) under any guise is inexcusable because it breeds more of what it is ostensibly 'calling out'.

      A. Dru

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    5. Oh good grief. The Confederate flag is as potent a symbol of racism as is the swastika for Nazism, and I'm going to stand firm here and call a spade a spade. And take the consequences of offending someone or another. Thank you, A. Dru for commenting, though. It's an interesting discussion.

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    6. In my experience, words and symbols both do matter. Having grown up Virginia, I have not had any experiences in which the Confederate flag represented anything other than the words "I hate" or "I liked it better when we had slavery" and these ideas are, to me, quite mean. I'd be curious what else the flag means to people?

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    7. Elizabeth, you are completely right. I grew up in the South, too, and in my experience people who flew Confederate flags ARE largely mean and ignorant. They scared me then, and they scare me now. I'm with you.

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  3. A friend posted this poem on her blog:

    "There is a shield you may still hold because of so many battles.
    I guess another conflict could begin any moment,
    so maybe lugging it about could be of some use;
    or is it just an undermining habit...
    Yes, how amazing that a small umbrella or an
    illusion, held over your head... or clung to, can
    hide the stupendous fact of omniscient Light." -- Hafiz

    ...this reminded me both of your previous post about the lingering tension/worry which survivors of trauma feel, as well as the flag which flies in the photo above. Is the flag a shield? What does it really represent - to those carrying it, and to those who see it? May the "umbrellas" we see - and the ones we ourselves carry - never succeed in hiding "the stupendous fact of omniscient light."

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    1. Thank you Karen. That's an overwhelming poem. As are your words -- I will think about them and my own participation as both a person who holds umbrellas and sees them as opposed to that light.

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  4. Brava, Elizabeth. Well said and thank you.

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  5. Annie Dru, I would like to be enlightened as to why anyone would fly a confederate flag. Nostalgia for what? I am Canadian and have only understood the Confederate flag to mean one thing. It seems you feel differently. Please explain.

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  6. I've often thought that some people fly the confederate flag not for the slavery piece of it but for the not wanting to conform or be controlled by govt. I would like to think that for some people that is the motivation for clinging to the south rising. But I live in MN and have little first-hand experience with anyone using the confederate flag for any reason other than trying to say they are a redneck. I don't think people realize that everyone's life experiences lead them to interpret an action like flying the confederate flag in their own individualized way.

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    1. I live in NC and this is how I've heard it used, when I've been brave enough to ask. Interestingly, the rural poor who wouldn't have owned slaves, are the ones flying the flag. North Carolina, I've learned since living here, has a rather complicated history with the Civil War and slavery; North Carolinians didn't necessarily fight in the Civil War for the preservation of slavery. Common cause makes for strange bedfellows. BUT, it's like understanding that it is not ok to use the "R" word because it hurts feelings (well more than that! anger, rage... and the flag does more than "hurt feelings" too). Regardless of what it ONCE used to mean, it now stands for racism. period. (oh shit, history makes my head hurt). And your writing is beautiful, Elizabeth, as usual.

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    2. Phooey. I just realized that writing "I live in NC" makes me sound like I know something. I'm no authority.

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    3. Thanks, Emily P. for your thoughtful remarks. I went to college in North Carolina and adore the state (and the Tar Heels!). I do remember a lot of racism, though, even in the most educated populace of the university! I seem to remember, too, that North Carolina had one of the strongest chapters of the KKK for many, many years. At risk of sounding self-righteous, I don't think we can ever be less than vigilant in calling it out when we see it.

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  7. Regardless of what the intention is behind it, just knowing that so many people find Confederate flags so hurtful should be enough to abstain from flying it. It always feels defiant to me when I see them. Like the way it feels when some one cuts you off on the freeway and then salutes you with a middle finger to boot. It's as awful as seeing those little soot colored lawn jockeys out on peoples' gardens or hearing of someone dressing up in black face. Even if the person "didn't mean any harm" or "it wasn't personal" it's just in poor taste. Period.

    Annie Dru, I commend you for your transparency. You seem intelligent and thoughtful, so let me address you with that in mind--and as a person of African descent. And by "African descent" I mean one who looks like and identifies with the human beings who were beaten, shackled, stolen, tortured and killed in the name of prosperity, particularly in the south. And as one who most certainly would have been a slave had I lived 200 years ago. The thing is, Annie. . . when that flag came down, SLAVERY came down with it. That awful, awful institution that the southern U.S. proudly held on to long after their northern counterparts deemed it inhumane. So people fought and died so that human beings wouldn't be seen as pieces of cattle--live property. And for those occasionally who wake up in cold sweats after nightmares of having their children torn from their bosoms just because they could jump high or having their husbands sent away to settle a debt since he could chop wood fast and hoe a straight line. . .see, we are mortified at the thought of anyone saying anything other than good riddance to that flag and what it symbolizes.

    I do wonder what was their intention when they lifted that flag into that salty blue Santa Monica sky? Was it nostalgia? Was it days of antebellum yore simply transplanted to the great out west? Proud southerners who were no different than football fans tailgating in their teams' colors? I don't think so. I think it was just like that middle finger on the freeway. Cutting you off first and then saying "oh and fuck you, too" -- just in case you missed it and thought they gave a damn about your feelings.

    My dos pesos.

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    1. Your dos pesos are rocking this post right into the stratosphere! Thank you.

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  8. Today, while I was at the local store, I heard two men say some pretty shameful things about people who looked different than them-pompous, white, TX assholes. They laughed and used words I've only known ignorant people to use-especially the n-word. In public, in front of my kids. Yup, confederate flag sticker on the back of truck. Spade=spade, yes? Free speech, sure it's their right. Doesn't make it right, though.

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  9. Southerners who fly the Confederate flag will tell you it's about their "heritage," not about racism. Of course, their heritage IS racism -- I fail to see where one begins and the other ends. The gesture carries a built-in swagger, a provocation, a dare to challenge. That flag makes my skin crawl every time I see it.

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  10. It is altogether one thing to hold those views in your own mind (or heart). It is completely something else to purchase, mount, and fly an enormous banner that represents such views out in public. In my estimation, someone who is actively flying a Confederate flag from their vehicle is proclaiming their views as either a proud sentiment or an incitement. Either way, it feels mean-spirited and nasty. If there are quiet racists who do not seek to provoke others, perhaps they are wearing Confederate flag underwear, but this group was most certainly there to start something and it wasn't an educated conversation, I'll bet.

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  11. I enjoyed the discourse, but I'd hoped Annie Dru would weigh in again on some of the questions that were put forth. I'm always interested in understanding how people arrive at certain conclusions, especially when those conclusions differ from my own.

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    1. Nancy, let me weigh in… my original post was far from in defense of the Confederate flag. It was in response to use by the author of the words "mean" and "stupid" to characterize individuals with whom she had no apparent personal acquaintance.

      It was both the negative generalization of an entire group of diverse human beings (rather than the questionable behavior itself) as well as the facile representation of an inherently complex argument, namely the flying of flags, which prompted me to respond.

      On home soil, few hackles are raised by the flying of the American flag, yet who could deny that these quotes from President Teddy Roosevelt, made less than thirty years after the end of Civil War, cast the darkest of shadows on our beloved icon...

      "The most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages." and "..it is of incalculable importance that America, Australia, and Siberia should pass out of the hands of their red, black, and yellow aboriginal owners, and become the heritage of the dominant world races."

      Atrocities committed under the American flag are certainly not limited to the genocide of Native Americans, nor have they ceased to be perpetrated in modern times. I venture to guess that the American flag flying in many parts of the world would be considered a gross human rights affront to this very day.

      Personally I find the type of neat and handy scapegoating characterized in this post to be the worst part of the problem. In my opinion we need to grow up and recognize our own hypocrisy if we are to have any hope of evolving beyond a superficial and self-satisfied political correctness. Finger pointing and name calling are the province of uneducated school children.

      A. Dru

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    2. Jesus Christ and give me a break, Annie Dru. This was not a post about flags -- nowhere did I say anything about the American flag. To tell you the truth, I don't give a flying foo foo about flags, the American one included. I took a photo of a group of loud people who drove into a Santa Monica beach parking lot with a giant Confederate flag flying from their truck which is a shocking sight in these parts. Yes, I assumed that the reason they were flying the flag, a potent and blatant symbol of the south's racist history, was mean (meaning, "low"), and it's been my experience growing up and living in the south that they are not people to "mess with." If you were a regular reader of my blog (MY blog, I might add, not yours), you might know my "style" as a writer which is a sort of riff -- jazz-like, if you will. I am often struck by things, images, events, etc. that inspire a sort of unfolding. I see links in things, my brain explores them and how they relate to other things in my life. I pay attention to detail. It was you who stepped in with a very patronizing tone, telling me that as a parent of a special needs child, it would behoove me to act with some sort of decorum and not "judge" the people riding in their big-ass truck with their stupid, stupid Confederate flag. When other readers weighed in, they were hardly "superficial" and "self-satisfied," -- I found it interesting, to tell you the truth, and after all, it's a BLOG not the Op-Ed page of the New York Times. I wouldn't presume to be a perfect writer -- and there are many times, perhaps this one included, when my riffing makes no sense. This wasn't a blog about flags or racism or American atrocities or even politics. It was a post about INCONGRUITY -- starting with the hideous Confederate flag flying in a truck of rowdy people in Santa Monica, California and ending with the equally incongruent nature of mind/heart, of what we create in our minds and reach through our hearts. Please desist from insulting the readers here with your paternal and pedantic tone.

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    3. Wow, I've really offended you Elizabeth. I am sorry. It was never my intention to engage in a pissing match with another mom struggling to keep her head above water, and you're right, I am new to your blog.

      I came here as the frightened and overwhelmed mother of a son with epilepsy, seeking refuge and understanding. Perhaps the timing was unfortunate, because being greeted with this particular post left me feeling jarred and confused instead.

      I 'weighed in' again at the request of your readership, who apparently found discussion of the issues surrounding the Confederate flag compelling enough to engage in with some enthusiasm. I apologize if it detracted from your original intention in posting the article. I can be obtuse I guess.

      In any event, I will respect that this is your blog and refrain from further comment, other than to say thank you for having the courage to share your journey in this public venue.

      Many Blessings,

      Annie Dru

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