Every month we have a small get together for friends at our @HomeCrazzyHome. I call it F4: Friends, Food, Fun & Filosophy. Yes, I know that it supposed to have a ‘ph,’ but it shows that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. It has not always been as intellectually stimulating as I’d like, but last night was one of the best. We talked about so many things…for over six hours.
One of the topics that a young friend and I discussed was writing, in particular, setting. He had recently read To Kill A Mockingbird for college. We talked about how Harper Lee had based this story loosely upon the small Southern town in which she grew up. In her autobiography, Lee, herself, said that writers “should write about what he knows and write truthfully.”
Last week, I told you about how a real-life person and event had inspired Ægir’s trilogy, but that story is set in a place that I have never been. But Lofoten Islands, Norway is on my Bucket List. In fact, the novella I just finished combines that trip and my sea captain friend.
But most of the other stories that I write are very much set in places I do know well. Places I have lived or visited frequently, like Los Angeles and London. One place stands out though parallels Lee’s fictional Maycomb experience. That is Sebida, Texas.
Sebida is an anagram of the small East Texas town where I lived for four years during my first marriage to the preacher. We actually moved there to start a ‘home church’ that reached out to the city folks that were buying five-acre tracts of former farmland that had been broken up and were being sold. It was a critical town as longtime farm residents came into conflict with those ‘city slickers’ that wanted to change everything and bring their big-city problems to town.
The preacher, our four young children, and I lived in an old house right in the middle of town, at the only major crossroads. It was a time of struggle for us. Living in such a small place was a shock after living in Houston, Baltimore, and other big cities for almost a decade. But it reminded me of growing up in that mill village in South Carolina. Except this time, I was the outsider.
As I said Sebida is the setting for several of my stories. It first appears in Shared Burdens where Sergeant Mike finally gets the chance to meet the woman of his dreams, Esther. She is the mixed-race high school English and drama teacher. Her son, Mike’s friend and commander, was killed in action a few months before.
I don’t want to give to many spoilers for the book, but many people would find the racism, classism, and strict social hierarchy shocking. Especially in America and the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. But I promise you, it really was that bad.
For me, the most shocking thing was that the sixty-something-year-old pastor of the only ‘black’ church in town would not look my thirty-seven-year-old college-educated fool ex-husband in the eye. The man even addressed him as ‘sir.’ And this was 1999! That is just one of many stories that I wish sometimes I could forget.
Sebida is the setting for other stories, too. Small Town Secrets and One Night Stand, both of which I am working to complete. Both of which examine that insular small-town mentality.
It is not just small-towns that can be like that. Any neighborhood can be. Not so much in big cities, those tend to be much more impersonal. But I live now in a mid-sized city. Our posh neighborhood is very much like that.
Most of our neighbors are in their seventies or even eighties. Many of them have lived in this area for thirty or forty years. Being CRAZZY we definitely don’t fit in. A few months ago I had a run-in with a local politician who told me…you haven’t lived here long enough.
The thing is, as my young friend pointed out…
In ‘communities’ (be that small towns or neighborhoods), people care about you. That is both good and bad. They care when things aren’t going your way. But they also care when you aren’t going theirs. In other words, when, like me, you don’t conform to their expectations.
And the opposite is true of big cities. They don’t care. Period. They don’t care if you are lonely, hungry, or even homeless. But they also don’t much care if your hair is purple, you have body art and piercings from head to toe, or what your sexuality is.
It’s a trade-off. And so far, at least, I have not found a single place that has the best of both. Even the hippie communes of the 1960s proved not to be sustainable long term.
That is the other dichotomy explored in these works:
Change is inevitable. People hate change.
Things die, other things grow in their place. What worked yesterday, may not tomorrow. So as much as Sebida, Drayton, S.C. where I grew up, my neighbors, or any place else want to hold onto the ‘good ole’ days’, ‘the way things used to be,’ it just won’t work.
We have to change and adapt with the times. The best that we can hope for is to salvage some of the good things about those ‘good ole’ days.’ Or as my Nanny used to say, “Don’t go throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
This is an especially important lesson for people like my young friend. Their world is changing more rapidly than perhaps at any time in history. Add to that the complex pressures of overpopulation, climate change, and mass extinctions. A world that is interconnected almost at the speed of light (with fiber optics). The challenges that he, PanKwake, and others of their generation face are massive.
That’s why conversations like we had last night, and books, literature of all ages, are so vital. One of the advantages of those ‘communities’ was knowledge transfer from generation to generation. But that too is changing. With the internet, so much knowledge is available to everyone…young and old, rich and poor, regardless of sex, color, or religion.
But knowledge is not wisdom…
That is another blog though…
Until then, goddess bless and keep you,