Saturday, April 17, 2021

Texas notes: Flowing locks

     One of Austin bureau chief Caren Jeskey's last dispatches from the Lone Star State before she returns to the welcoming embrace of the Midwest.

     How many things in your life have you fervently wanted? How many of them did you get? What drives you? Is it desire? Is it purpose? Is it control? Do you even know? Or maybe are you like me—sometimes you know very clearly, and you can see the path forward. Other times you find yourself looking through a fogged up window on a chilly damp day. Glimpses of clarity emerge as you wipe the shammy across the windshield. Ahhh. I can see again. What a relief. But just as soon as you exhale there’s that darned condensation again. You wonder: If I turn the air on will it clear? Should I really be driving right now? Do I need to pull over? Is there anywhere to even pull over? Maybe I’ll just keep on driving, do my best, and I will probably be just fine. Praying is not an option for me in those moments.
     I was raised Catholic and never believed in god. I loved the pomp (“ostentations boastfulness or vanity”, says Google) of church. From my tiny school girl stature I stared up at porcelain sculptures of Mary and exquisite stained glass. The glass told intricate stories of sad looking women and men with downcast eyes, looking like they were in big trouble. Some were gazing upwards praying to a God I could not see or feel. I’d go through all the motions—genuflect, kneel, stand up, sit down, (fight fight fight) and make the sign of the cross on my body murmuring “the father, the son, and the holy spirit.” To this day I am not sure who all of these guys are.
     Earlier this week a quote by Dr. Jane Nelsen, proponent of Positive Discipline, floated around on the internet. “Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse? Think of the last time you felt humiliated or treated unfairly. Did you feel like cooperating or doing better?” What did those stained glass disciples feel? Why did porcelain Mary have to stand alone in the corner looking so miserable?
     There was also the priest who had me in his car that one time I can remember—wait, why was I in his car? Did my parents know? I felt uncomfortable and didn’t like the way he was overly familiar. The memory is vague but it’s real. That’s not why I am not religious. I just honestly never felt that there was a being out there, or a creator. To me science is real.
     I often meditate, clear my head, practice humility, and grow the love in my heart for others and myself. I have found over the years that I can pray (“ask earnestly” says Google) to Good. Good, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. I even like the Lord’s Prayer. When we say “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done,” I think “may Good’s will be done."  May this world be a kinder, gentler place. May I heal as I grow and become the best version of myself, which will help me be a good cog in the wheel of life.
     When I started this piece I thought it was going to be about something else, a man I met who is a part of The Fervent Church here in Austin. Today I got lunch at a cafe (to go) and found myself telling the cashier “let me get his meal too,” gesturing to the man in scrubs who clearly worked at the hospital next door. We chatted a bit. Turns out he moved here from Tucson recently with his wife and a few other couples, and their children, to start a church. It was their “calling.” Well, good for them. Nice young man.
     Living in the South for seven years has taught me to be much more tolerant of those who are super religious. Otherwise I’d have shut myself off to many lovely friendships and acquaintances. I finally put down any need to talk anyone into or out of anything, really. The only time I’ll step into other’s lives these days (unless I’ve slipped up and started giving unsolicited advice, or if they directly ask for advice) is if they are harming another living being—l
ike that one time the guy at the DMV kicked the little pooch he had in a bag under his chair. The dog whined from time to time, which elicited a kick, a louder whine, and then a sickening silence. Everyone but me acted like nothing was happening, or maybe they had their heads buried in their all important phones, oblivious to the outside world. When I got up and reported it, a muscly guard told me to stop causing trouble. “I handle what happens here,” he bellowed down at me as I stared at his barrel chest.
     It’s clearly time in our country for us to try to have civilized discourse. A friend told me about a course that teaches how to do this: I plan to enroll. If Jesus Christ was allowed to have flowing locks even though dirty hippies were brutalized by Southern gentlemen just because their hair was long. We must continue addressing the hypocrisy head-on. It’s time for us to wake each other up to the fact that we are all just human, and each of us as equal as the next.

     “If I can’t dance it’s not my revolution.” Emma Goldman


  1. "The dog whined from time to time, which elicited a kick, a louder whine, and then a sickening silence. Everyone but me acted like nothing was happening, or maybe they had their heads buried in the all important phones, oblivious to the outside world. When I got up and reported it, a muscly guard told me to stop causing trouble. 'I handle what happens here,' he bellowed down at me..."

    You just summed up, in a few sentences, why so many lifelong Yankees hate Texans with every fiber of their being, along with the rest of the benighted South. It's for those "Cool Hand Luke" attitudes, and the behavior you so aptly described. Not just toward white pooches, unfortunately.

    You are far more charitable than I am, Caren. A helluva lot more. For me, the time for civilized discourse is long past. I harbor a burning desire to see Joe's boys take the gloves off. Civil War 1.0 never really ended, and its issues have never been resolved. Civil War 2.0 may be approaching....and who knows? I might even live long enough to see it happen. But I'll definitely be too old to wield a terrible swift sword.

    Just re-reading what I quoted from you engenders white-hot anger and hatred. And for anyone who responds that I know next to nothing about Southern hospitality...hey, I spend two years in northern Florida, less than an hour from the Georgia line. That was enough for a lifetime. This Yankee was actually fired from a job, in the supposedly-enlightened mid-Seventies, for "being too friendly with them cullud boys" on the loading dock.

    The only difference that I can discern between the Old South and the New South is that it's no longer polite to lynch people of color. Or to use the n-word. Otherwise, that's what would have dripped from that good old boy's lips. And too many Southerners will still attempt to behave like chivalrous and genteel knights of old, even as they happily open up their cans of whoop-ass.

    Welcome back to the Midwest, Caren. These are the Joe Years. This time, I know our side will win.

    1. Thank you Grizz. I like adventure, but I agree that it's time to be around people who, in general, won't shock me with an outright bullying (racist, gender biased, animal right ignoring, xenophobic...) nationalist quite as often.

    2. After 45 years of being back in the Midwest, I still miss the sunshine, the mild winters, the ocean breezes, the sand, and the surf. But not too much else. Yeah, I also crave adventure. But I prefer the northern kind, thank you very much...

  2. I had to look up the Goldman quote and although it's 100% apt for the blog this morning, it's not exactly what she said, which is: "Here, rather, is what she did say, in her 1931 autobiography Living My Life:

    At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening a cousin of Sasha [Alexander Berkman], a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. It was undignified for one who was on the way to become a force in the anarchist movement. My frivolity would only hurt the Cause.

    I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind his own business, I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown into my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. “I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.” Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world–prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own comrades I would live my beautiful ideal. [Living My Life (New York: Knopf, 1934), p. 56]"

    Thanks for the inspiration.


    1. I had to read part of her autobiography for my new book. It's quite fun.

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    3. Thank you John! Even better. I'm saying the same g-d things in 2021 as she said in 1934. I guess we all just have to keep standing up for ourselves and those who want our help, over and over and over. I worked at a hospital (in Chicago) where I was repeatedly harassed by 2 doctors for years (one was arrested at the hospital at least once for roughing up another doc), and when I reported it was told "you have to learn to work with the players, since the players aren't going to change." My favorite nurse called me Emma Goldman. I guess woman with a voice and the ability to say no is akin to an anarchist? Oy vey. The challenge is being joyful and content while also managing injustice as far as I can tell.

    4. Joyful? Content?

      Three lines on the yard signs you've probably seldom seen in Texas:

      *Women's rights are human rights.
      *Science is real.
      *Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

    5. We have one of those quotes on lawn signs (in Austin) at least. But I find more kindred spirits in the Chi.

  3. Praying to Good. That sounds about right. Beautiful.

    1. Thanks Dennis- I will keep trying my best!

  4. It's a constant challenge trying to live one's good life. One can only do so much, and then try to be tolerant of those who will never have the will or capacity to understand. As I get older I realize that though the influence of one person alone cannot change the world, it can perhaps mean the world to one person.
    Welcome back home!

  5. Beautiful. Well-written. From the heart. Chicago has its troubles too Good knows but I believe it is home for us all.

  6. If there is a god that answers some prayers and ignores others, I have no use for him. A man who would kick a dog would kick you too. A wise man once said, "Crap in one hand, wish in the other and see which fills first." Substitute 'prayer' for 'wish' and it is just as wise.


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