I knew the piece was dark and frankly a negative if not accurate portrayal of what it is like living in the South. Had I done my homework and actually researched this Journal I would have noticed it was from Gainesville, Florida, not exactly a bastion of liberal journalistic esteem. Whoops. First rule of writing: Know Your Audience.
I share this with you and welcome feedback:
Swimming in the Deep Red Sea
When one has spent the bulk of one’s life swimming in the cool blue waters of the Pacific Northwest you find comfort in its brisk rush. These are the waters that house the dangerous catch and volcanic ranges of mountains that align the city that erupted from the sky of Boeing and the tools of Microsoft. A working class city, now a tech city, and the skyline has changed but the water has remained as blue and clear only richer for it. All cities have their own contradictions and their ways of process but little prepared me for when I decided to take a deep dive into waters less familiar.
It was June of 2016 when I and many others with our bags made of carpet arrived into the city of “it,” “Music City,” a city on the rise, a city with history that was less lumberjack but no less checkered when it comes to the composition of its music. That was the only thing these two cities shared when I decided to dive in deep into the warm red waters of Nashville, Tennessee.
I thought I was a strong swimmer and could handle rough waters but that was not what I found. These waters were calm and warm but what lay beneath the surface was a coldness that I did not feel until I dove deep. When I finally emerged I found myself choking on blood, sweat and tears that made me question every thing I knew and believed about myself and what I knew about those whom I shared a country but not an identity.
When I finally came ashore to take a respite from the endless churn and burn of the water I landed in a place that I did not understand and yet we shared the same language, however, not the same history. And that would be my first marker to know I was already in the deep with no rescue in sight. Well, that is if you do not include the barges that pass by, the taverns on pedals, the carts where the golf clubs are missing, the buses, the horses and carriages that pass by full of passengers oblivious to what is happening beyond the shore. They cannot lend a hand as theirs hands are already full with the fuel used to keep these vehicles afloat. < The water in Nashville is neither clear nor blue and like the people equally deceptive. What appears calm upon the surface is anything but as it possess a strong undertow that pulls you away from the shore, away the watchful eye of Batman as his vision is blocked by the endless cranes that arise upon the shore to take their place alongside this landmark.
They say this is a land of opportunity and the water is zoned for the Captains to take a cut but will they share it with those who built this city of it or will they take it to another port of call and find another “it” city in which to vest?
Water is a powerful symbol of faith and rebirth yet this same water only a few years ago tried to drown this city in a Baptism of its own making. And here in the Bible Belt there are endless blessings of heart and with it a dismissal, a warning that serves to remind you that only fools go where you are now treading water. There is no Savior, only self-reliance and a strong backstroke that allows you to hold up those bootstraps that are in turn held by the belt and the buckle that shines upon it.
This is the belt that fuels the vessel of myths, of the stories told and sung in the choirs and stages that align the shore. I see the lighthouses on the horizon and they are alight and winking at me as if to remind me that the doors are not open for those like me and so keep swimming as I will not be saved.
The water is like the air, hot and sticky, yet it tastes sweet like the endless cups of tea that are tossed from the boats that pass by onto the way they call Broad to the tonks that honk, places that are less about worship and more about the real industry of this little big town by this river. The siren call here is less about a warning of rocks ahead but more of a reminder to come in and leave the same way or in this case with a “Just Married” sign attached to the backside of your vessel.
Around me I see Sharks but their fins are Bibles and they are circling for blood but whose? Is it the blood of Christ or mine? Is there a difference? Only a heretic would know and I know heresy when I hear it. Or is that hypocrisy?
Poverty is a blessing but it is one in disguise. For the words they read seem to be in direct contradiction to what is preached and there is no greater message than being rich in faith for it is that which gives one the shiny object that sits on the bow of the Yachts that align the piers of worship.
While an invitation is presented to come aboard one it was extended like the welcome mat upon arrival but was withdrawn once upon deck. For I did not have what the passengers needed to enable me to know their stories, their secrets, for if they were to share it was not to me.
It was here the prosperity pulpit rose and that the obsession with money is to remind those that regardless of the past it will not just be the river that will rise again. Avarice is a sin but that does not apply to this the city on the rise with gleaming towers, mansions, to tall and skinny or minis like the new coffees for five dollars that are good to the last drop. Without them it would mean all that they prayed for would come to an end and that is not how this story is going to. It is forever lasting like a resurrection that parallels its endless faith and promises that we already know are lies.
Truth is the enemy and much like the fish tales you hear as it serves to remind one that this is the land of the storyteller. The stories are churned out like chum and in turn fed to the hungry fish below who eat their fill and become bloated and like cream they rise to the top where they are skimmed off and promptly flushed for they served their purpose. And it is that lectern, that pulpit, where all speech arises. It explains why so few do speak to you but instead at you. They use that time to remand you, remind you, to lecture you when they choose to no longer ignore you. And while their words seem friendly the message is clear: You are not our kind and you are not of us and these are not the waters from where you came. But it is the markers that align the shore that tell of the history of this place serving less as a reminder but more as a warning to all those who come now as to what happened to those who came before.
I think of the most infamous of the tales from the book of rule that and it was its most miraculous - the one the fishes and loaves; Here in this water we have many fish and we have the bread, only of another kind. But we also have bait and like shade it is tossed and neither offer relief. Here the fish are more like sheep, no like lamb, only this one is not for purity its is for sacrifice and being led to the slaughter. They will crowd you, push you, provoke you, tease and taunt you all followed by a denial of its intent. There is no honor among thieves and here is where the honor code runs deep. They never stop churning it, burning it or bringing it to the surface, as scores must be settled. For this is a their sport, shooting fish in a barrel and they never seem to hit enough targets to feed the hungry.
Wages and earnings make a man but in Nashville they will break you. The sea is rising but the lifeboats are full. The Captains of these industries feel that fighting for wages makes you a stronger swimmer; no it just makes you bait. Minimum wage for maximum work is why we have lifesavers to stay afloat while awaiting rescue, but not here, for it is only sink or swim. So I keep swimming and the horizon seems further away. Rest is for the wicked. Am I not wicked enough? Prayer, as I have been told repeatedly, is the way to find salvation so instead I just keep swimming.
For what is on offer is much like what is on tap, you must pay to be served. Come to Nashville where humble bragging is a sport, an avocation and a belief. The endless declarations of the city’s placement on lists that tell of how the city tops one after another, yet they also neglect to mention the same lists that have a top also have a bottom of which they sit as well. And like much plastic they are tossed and promptly choke the fish. Here the true bosses of the city sit along the shore like Lifeguards only instead of watching for danger they watch for the swimmers to crash in around them. Just another day along the Cumberland, a river that circles the city like a snake, a symbol not lost here in this city of faith. But what kind of faith depends on whom you ask. So I jump back in looking for another place to find the respite I seek.< I am shark bait, like jail bait, I am fresh blood and that is another irony as the home to all private prisons just lay on the right side of the shore. But that is the point there is only a right side in these red waters.
Ask and you shall not be forgiven for that is not an option on the menu at the Capitan’s Table. For every question there is another answer, another story, another version of the truth. Don’t ask don’t tell in this city of faith that begets hate with each law they attempt to pass time and time again. In this city of faith tolerance is a race and it is one not run but lived. Tolerance is an act, given in exchange for the price one pays for admission and it is not cheap. The rules of the maritime don’t apply here and they come from one book and that book is carried in hand and sits in every drawer, desk, and place of learning be it public or private for that is the book of laws. It is a place of rage and where laws are made of hate, the better to rid the city of the interlopers/the non-believers. This is a city of transients, seekers of gold, like those that once came West who have now moved South. That which is old is not new, it is rebranded to make someone believe and belief is not just an act it is a necessity.
For every action is designed to cause a reaction, a lesson learned in school, as that is from a book of science and that is not where this is gleaned. For in these schools they have an order and a place in the ecosystem that is defined by their species. They have magnets and charter boats and private Yachts to distinguish the Guppies from those that are gold. The same book that writes the laws divides the waters in ways only Moses could have accomplished. The book is what ensures that the quo remains the status and that only the biggest predators survive. It is no coincidence that the team that skates on the ice here shares that name as the ice is not the only coldness in this little big town. Perhaps it is why my tea tastes bitter not sweet as here a may be what puts the spit in hospitality. Meat and threes are on offer for the plate but the plate has not been passed until the offering has been made. Exchange comes at a price and that is a high price one pays to belong.
These waters possess a calm that belies the storm. The shade comes not from the trees as the axes fall when a big name game comes to town. The Hurricane warnings ring and yet none appear on the horizon, for what or whom they toll makes one ask is that for me? Perhaps the water is rising as it was due to the tears of those whose names and sprits align the shores and the hills that exist in Nashville, for it was they who built the fort of defense and the mansions of the Meade that filled the river to the point it overflowed with them nearly drowning this city only a decade ago like a Baptismal fount washes away the sins.
The land I came from seems so distant so far away but it too has faced a river that brought new fish to the waters of the sound, Piranhas. These are fish that eat flesh but this is a place that passes the bread as the body of Christ so no skin is lost in this game. For the Amazon is full of riches and the plate has to be passed to make the offer to secure a new Lord whose name is as odd as the ones that fill the book of stories.The South shall rise again and flood the land with riches that all can see but not all can touch.
For one vested in the now it means history is like a reflection, it is simply looking back. I was a fish out of water and for now this fish is shoaling, for I have no school in which to blend, to hide and wait in which to escape the lines that are tossed daily in my direction. Fear is the mantra, the motivator and the threat. It keeps us all moving. For this water being fresh it is oddly salty, perhaps better to keep all that attempt to dive in afloat.