Transitions and things and slavery (never far from my mind)

C and his girlfriend went away for the long weekend. As soon as they returned, it was time to drive my other son to the airport. Washing dishes at the sink this morning, I thought, “oh this phase of the empty nest is marked by transition,” and then a heart beat later, “ALL phases of life are marked by transition.” After all, I was washing a ceramic bowl that an hour earlier belonged to a downsizing friend.

Scanning her garage shelves this morning I said,  “I’ll look because both boys are setting up apartments this fall,” but the truth is I find opportunities to receive free stuff irresistible.  Perhaps my choices were puzzling to her. I took several decades’ worth of spigot and hose attachments, but not the complete set of enamel-handled silverware (surely handy in a young man’s empty apartment?!). I grabbed the funky, brass crab ash tray, but left the collection of vases from all over the world behind.   It is not quite as fun as it used to be — this gleeful, thrifty form of acquisition — because I now understand the cost of HAVING things. The housing, the cleaning, perhaps the wishing I hadn’t.  But still, can anyone doubt that those giraffe salad utensils look happy in their new home? Look at them, checking out the kitchen!

I could go on a framing spree to justify the big box of wooden frames I lugged home.

Or, I could go drink iced coffee in the shade before it rains. I’d like to finish Faulkner’s “Go Down, Moses” even though I may have less idea about what’s going on than the author intended. Can’t a read be like that? Just a letting of the text wash over the mind? And then it’s back to “Blood and Indigo” and Eliza and the enslaved Melody and the events during the week of the Stono Slave Rebellion (the second week of September, 1739). Imagining.

It requires research and a kind of patient waiting to describe a scene situated almost 300 years ago. What was in the minds of my white characters that week? What was in the minds of my black characters? The attempt to fully imagine those events feels like a fruitful one. I begin to understand the harsh tensions of that time, including the true costs of slavery. The void between white and black points of view is vast and unbridgeable, as I tell it, and perhaps one or even both sides are unknowable to me, and yet, I keep going for it.

Sadly, this research and patient imagining of violence brought on by racial oppression echoes across the centuries and helps me to understand OUR time as well. I wish that weren’t true.

All kinds of things tell me that we, America, might be at a tipping point. Don’t you think? Commentators a lot better informed than I are talking about the coming of the end of white supremacy (for example, here). Everywhere, I see signs of a willingness to take on our history with a fresh and more honest approach.   

(If you know that this is Newton’s Jackson Homestead, celebrated as one of the documented stops on the Underground Railroad, you will understand the import of that banner).

To be continued, of course.

5 thoughts on “Transitions and things and slavery (never far from my mind)

  1. saskia

    despite being ‘white’ and therefore not truly knowing what it is to be black, i am a woman and therefore know something of what (being) prejudice(d) means and feels like…..i think it is incredibly brave of you to have taken on this task of researching what slavery and racism meant and still means, you are under no obligation to do so and yet you do!
    i learn a lot here, from your writing, your stitching, your images.
    one aspect that impresses me is that you remain quite unsentimental and factual about all you report here, not that i don’t see emotions, however they’re never false nor are they pretentious.

    p.s. i love your latest collections

    1. deemallon

      Thank you for what feels like encouragement Saskia. I have often thought that to have suffered at all in life means that there is a certain channel open to other kinds of suffering. I still think this but I now (probably too adamantly) would say that the suffering associated with being enslaved is of a different order. I say this because not only were they treated as less then other people, they were treated as less than PEOPLE in astonishingly appalling ways. They were robbed of their language and family and culture and their entire orientation to reality. And, being traded and sold like cattle and listed in testamentary dispositions along carts, linens, and silver has another entire layer of pain and indignity. That they were nevertheless able to contribute so,so much to American society is remarkable.

      And I am either brave or foolish. But here’s the thing: I could never regret this path no matter the outcome. That’s how important it all feels to me.

  2. RainSluice

    My first thought – does Faulkner even matter next to “Blood and Indigo”. You know, I’ve never even read Faulkner, but always felt I should. Again, I admire your due diligence, depth and breadth of commitment. What are you getting from Faulkner (is that a dumb question?). Your comment above ” I could never regret this path no matter the outcome. That’s how important it all feels to me.” stops me cold. It stops me cold because I think that is how an important endeavor feels. Truly important work is not “fun” or “exciting”, not “pleasurable”, and not exactly “work” though its a ton of work – – this work of yours is impelling.

    … and those giraffe headed salad utensils are hilarious.

    1. deemallon

      Faulkner is open on my lap now and I am not following half of it but that’s what I mean by letting the text flow over me. So not really working. And maybe not as much due diligence as you suspect. But what I get from him is a whole other matter First the delicious long sentences which I love even as they leave me behind their sense. And then it’s the south of course and In this book the war and emancipation are still fresh and the relationships over several generations of whites and blacks are complicated and rich.


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