Unsmiling

I wish I had the ability to write today as a short story that could effectively communicate the pathos of a hundred little actions culminating in an unsmiling face of the man behind me at the Walmart checkout.

Because I can’t write the story or essay I would like, I’ll put down the day in notes so that at least i can look back on this.

I volunteered for Refugee Services of Texas. I had initially signed up to volunteer with them almost two years ago, and then was too wrapped up in pregnancy and depression to do anything more than was required of me. Then I went to the orientation in a fury after the inauguration of the man most likely to start WWIII. And again did nothing. So feeling sick about the state of our country this Fourth of July, I signed up for a mission: apartment setup for a family. Essentially, this means shopping for them and getting all the items to their apartment before they arrive.

It took about 7 hours, 3 trips to walmart, 9-10 trips with groceries and house supplies in the Texas July sun around an apartment building and up a flight of broken concrete stairs. The apartment was about as bad as landlords can get away with in the US, M’s knees and hands were black from crawling over the floor and dead bugs with scattered liberally around, almost as if left with care.

M, 11 months, was strapped to my chest through walmart and then the trips back and forth to the car for the bags.

It was awful.

I was not filled with a deep sense of joy at helping my fellow man. I was depressed and sad and very, very tired.

And this sorrow culminated in man at the checkout that wouldn’t smile or engage. I tried apologizing once; he had three items and it was absurd that he was behind me, because checking out must have taken nearly three quarters of an hour. I thought he might have not heard my first apology or my second. But the third left no doubt: he had heard me, he had seen, and was resolutely not going to smile or nod or in any way acknowledge me.

And here I should probably mention that I am white, he is black, and I had moved my purse to my shoulder during the process of checkout.

I can’t know, of course, what was going on inside his head. I can’t know if he is deaf, and simply wears a grouchy face as part of his normal expression. I can’t know if his stomach hurt or if he doesn’t like women.

I can’t know, in short, whether he held an opinion on my skin tone or the position of my purse.

But that’s where my mind went, and where it remained for the rest of the day: on the unaccountability of privilege. Because none of my actions thus far, or any after this, matter. No opinions I hold, on race, on black life matters, on police brutality, matter. At that moment, I was just a white woman moving her purse away from a black man.

He’s right. He’s right not to smile.

It doesn’t matter that he wasn’t the reason I moved the purse. …although now I have to ask myself if he was. Did he see something in my face at that I didn’t even realize was there?

I have to stop now, because the laundry is done and I have to go pick it up.

And I don’t have an answer to this. I wanted to sit down and write about inequality, about not making nice or pretending everything is ok, when in face we live in a broken country. Instead I am left wondering about my own head. Because up until this writing, I was certain I moved my bag in order to have enough room in the cart. And now I don’t know. I’ve seen my mother suddenly retract after an action or statement that wounds, suddenly and fiercely claiming all deniability. How do you walk yourself back from that self knowledge?

 

On Hitting Day 50 of #100DaysOfStories

I hit day 50 of my challenge #100DaysOfStories last week. I’d let off keeping track of the days that I actually managed to write for a full hour, although I hadn’t stopped using that time frame as the goal. Also, because the Daily Writing Challenge spreadsheet I use was originally created for the 250 words a day challenge, getting at least 250 remains a goal as well.

So for instance, in writing “The Gods That Made God” (aka “Young Gods”) I might write for a full hour for several days. But once the story reached its end, the most important thing I can do during the daily hour is read/review/re-write. So then I would do a free write on some other essay or story (I also like to do this in order to prime the pump even when not doing re-writes) to get up 250 words, and then I can spend the rest of the time combing through the story and not think about whether I’m meeting my word count.

I’m tired.

I was up last night, not because of my younger son, but awake for 3 hours just because. I suspect this is the inevitable return of my monthly hormonal cycle; while I’m neither ovulating or menstruating quite yet, the ghost of the hormone machine is beginning to crank up, getting ready for full gear in a few months, I suppose.

What have I learned in these first 50 days? That it took 5 months to get those hours. That many days all I can muster 250 words, or about 15 minutes. That in order to do anything at all, I have to abandon whatever story I wanted to work on, and just free write a blog post on my feelings or reactions to the news.

What I’ve learned is that like marriage, the only thing in writing is getting back up and starting over again. There is no there-there; some days I feel it, feel the deep soul of my relationship filling me up, illuminating each aspect of my life. And a lot days I just tread water. Like my marriage, I riot and complain and threaten to leave … and then get right back to it in the morning. These 50 days have taught me that like my marriage or running, the comfort is not in what is accomplished, but rather the routine itself, the repetition.

What I’ve come to respect in these 50 days is how crappy a writer I am. I’ve written about it in this blog, but I can’t stress enough how hard that simple fact is to face. As I discussed with my brother, and he agreed he faced the same, when you realize that you will never glamorously succeed, that the fantasy must be retired, a gush goes out of you. Like a dam let loose, you watch that power rush away and standing in the trickle that barely covers your ankles, you think, man, is this enough force? In the end all the energy was in the dream.

I’m tired.

I also think there maybe something important in enjoying the story that I’m writing, finding the whole process not a chore or a drag, but a simple, indulgent joy. But I’ll admit I’m not entirely sure how to get there. Maybe like running, there’s days for knowing that everything hurts and that all you can do is a maintenance run and there are others where you realize you soar.