Monday, August 21, 2017

Singing My Way Out of the South

Before I left Small Town for good, Small Town Guy organized a going-away dinner for me. Nine of my friends showed up for the dinner, which meant a lot to me. When I first moved to Tennessee, I didn't know a single person there. I'd come from a life in Chicago that revolved around work, eating alone in school cafeterias, and kicking/and or swearing at guys who tried to grope me on the El. My life in Small Town also revolved around work, but it also included shared meals and parties with friends. When I look back on the two years I spent in the South, I'll miss the friendships I made there the most.

I remember looking at everyone as we ate together and spent hours talking, and thinking to myself, It'll never be like this with them ever again. Sure, I might come back to visit, but that is a long time from now (I have to pay off at least some of the enormous debt I incurred from all my moving expenses first), and by the time I come back, some people will have moved on to other places too and new people will have shown up, and it won't be the same. It made me feel sad when I thought of how this was yet another important part of my life that I had to give up in order to pursue a career in academia.

Although many things bothered me about my life in Small Town, such as the fact that I wasn't treated fairly at work, drivers who drove fifteen miles an hour in the left lane, and neighbors who yelled "WHOOOO" approximately five hundred times a night while tossing beer cans in the parking lot, there are some things I'll miss, other than my friends.

I'll miss the mild weather (it felt like spring lasted a lot longer there), even though Small Town basically shut down during the winter. There were usually no more than a couple inches, but it was enough to make most of the restaurants, stores, and schools shut down. People frantically stocked up at Walmart for the "blizzard," and I'd say, "You mean the snow that is melting as we speak?" In the Midwest, we get several feet of snow, wear multiple layers of clothing for more than two-thirds of the year, and keep ourselves warm by complaining about how cold it is.

I'll miss the mountains. As I drove out of the South, I went from driving past the green mountains of Tennessee to the flat farmland of the Midwest. Sometimes when I got claustrophobic in Small Town, I'd drive to bigger cities and towns, but what I enjoyed most was looking at the mountains. I never failed to marvel at how beautiful they all were.

I'll miss the interesting cities in Tennessee, including Nashville, which was my favorite. It was several hours away from Small Town, but I liked going there because of its thriving literary scene, including the open mic nights and poetry readings that were held there every week, hosted by hipsters who would no doubt have tossed their man buns at me in disgust if they saw all the pop songs on my playlist (I heart you, Taylor Swift. You too, Ariana Grande.) I even took a one-day writing workshop at The Porch, which is a writer's collective.

Nashville also has a really good music scene. A few months ago, I watched Vanessa Carlton perform (she sounds just as good live as she does on her albums) at 3rd and Lindsley, a bar that has a Sunday night concert series.

I also went to a concert at the Grand Ole Opry (there were a variety of musicians that I didn't recognize, but they were all very good), where several people attended wearing cowboy hats and boots. I also walked down Broadway in Nashville, which is full of honky tonk bars where aspiring country musicians perform. I bought a soda in a couple of those bars and listened to the musicians sing, and I thought it was so cool that I basically had access to all these "concerts" for the price of a couple bucks.

I told the English Department secretary at my former school about my new job in College Town, and I remarked about how I had spent almost my entire life in the Midwest. She said, "Well, maybe it's where you need to be." Maybe she's right, at least for now. But I think it was good for me to get out of my comfort zone, live in a state that I had never been to before, work at a rural college, teach students whose mindset was very different from my Chicago students (in Small Town, several students wore Make America Great Again hats. If they did that in Chicago, people would probably snatch the hats right off their heads, yell, "What's the matter with you, FOOL?" and throw the hats into oncoming traffic), and make new friends.

Before I left, I made a "Southern Songs" playlist made up of country music. Even though I felt sad to leave my friends behind, I sang practically the whole time I drove out of the South.

What about you? If you were to leave your town/city behind, what would you miss most?

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

When a Troll Is Someone You Know

Recently I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and came across a post from a former high school classmate of mine who'd served in the military. They wrote about President Chump's (oops, I meant President Trump. Or DID I?) ban on transgender people in the military.

HS Classmate wrote a long post about how they felt the ban was fair and the right thing to do, and listed all the reasons that transgender people deserved to be discriminated against. They argued that transgender people belonged in mental institutions, not the military.

I learned from firsthand experience that it's never a good idea to argue with people on the Internet. But this time I couldn't hold my tongue. I wrote on HS Classmate's post that it wasn't fair to discriminate against people, that they weren't mentally ill, and that they deserved to be treated with respect.

I thought of the transgender people I'd met in Chicago, who were funny, kind, talented, and beautiful. I thought of the transgender student in my class this year, who confided in me about how they'd been kicked out of their house by their parents after coming out as transgender. I thought of the transgender people who sang and danced on floats in the Pride Parade in Chicago and how no one there made them feel ashamed for being who they were.

But HS Classmate kept ranting about transgender people. When I shared an article on FB that discredited several of the claims they made about them, they filled up my Facebook page with several condescending retorts and more lengthy rants. I informed HS Classmate that no matter what they said or posted, they would never change my mind.

HS Classmate claimed that they had a right to their beliefs, and several of their FB friends agreed with them and joined in on attacking my comments that defended transgender soldiers and insulted me personally, though they'd never met me. HS Classmate didn't tell them to back off, of course, but seemed to revel in the attention.

I know that everyone has a right to their beliefs, including that person. But I still think it's wrong to use your beliefs as justification to discriminate against other people and deny them rights that they should be (and are) entitled to.

Now that I'm moving to College Town, I'll be living just a few hours away from the small Midwestern hometown where I grew up, where this person still lives. It's possible I'll run into them, and I'm willing to bet that they'll try to get me to talk about this. If they do, I'll say this:

"You have a right to your beliefs, and I have a right to mine. For example, my belief is that you're a Trump-supporting, InfoWars believing, Breitbart reading, conspiracy theory spouting, gay bashing, transgender hating BIGOT who's never been discriminated against a day in your life and is so threatened by people who aren't exactly like you that you feel the need to try to control them and put them down for being who they are. But again, that's just my opinion. So, how've you been since high school?"

One of my other high school classmates asked this person what impact transgender soldiers had had on their service in the military when they were on active duty. But HS Classmate didn't respond, perhaps because they didn't have a valid response to it.

The whole thing made me angry, and I unfollowed (but did not unfriend) this person on Facebook. If and when I do see them again and if they argue with me about this issue again, I might "accidentally" spill a hot beverage on them and/or "accidentally" make them trip and fall. But I digress.

What about you? How do you deal with people whose political views differ from your own?"