Thursday, March 11, 2010

slumming? and a pending move

It's that time of the year again: amateur hour. When stupid people put plastic green Derby hats on their heads and drink Guinness or green beer until they stagger around and puke in the street.


Real Irish drinkers learn to no throw up and waste the good alcohol. And we have no need for those stupid hats.

I just saw a newspaper article outlining the various options available for people who want to celebrate St. Patrick's Day next Wednesday. Corned Beef and cabbage were high on the list, as were Guinness, green beer and the rest. Also listed were a 5K run and leg wrestling with local roller derby stars.

That's Irish?

Roller Derby?

Leg wrestling?

Huh. Must be a different kind of Irish than where my family came from

This is the time of year when I get frustrated by the appropriation of my culture by idiots who want to use it as an excuse to get drunk and act silly. People put an O' in front of their names and stagger around affecting bad imitations of an Irish brogue. I know from brogues, kids. When I was a wee lass, I was cared for by Gram Bashaw, who came over on the boat from the old country. I probably had a brogue of my own when I went into nursery school. I don't know that I ever knew Gram's real name, but we all called her Gram. She was a formidable woman, accustomed to hard work and raising children and she accepted very little nonsense in her world. Children play and frolic, yes, but no nonsense in the form of whining or complaining. People did not leave the Emerald Isle for America because times there were good there. She didn't see anything here worth complaining about, so just hush, dear. It could be a lot worse.

I get frustrated with the misappropriation of my culture by stupid people who think they can drink like the pros in much the same way I get frustrated when I have to explain yet again that there is a real difference between rural culture and urban culture. I get frustrated when tourists come to my town and call it quaint and say all it needs is a Starbucks. Gah. Our town is not quaint. Our town is our home, not a natural habitat exhibit at the zoo. The people who live here are not creatures to be studied with fascination, we are humans who like where we live thank you, and have no desire to be plugged in in a hundred different ways.

There is a t-shirt I have seen with a pen and ink cartoon drawing of a long, gangly moose relaxing in a hammock. The caption reads: "Maine. Life in the slow lane." And really? That's a lot like what we've got. At least it is here. Lots of people have cell phones, but like me, they resent them at least some of the time. I don't like having an electronic leash that anyone with my number can yank any time they like. I have a computer, and I use it to write here and to correspond with friends and to learn about the world. It is both educator and entertainer in my world. I can't remember the last time I turned the TV on. Yes I do. It was for the overtime period of the Olympic gold medal hockey game. Before that, I think it was back in January. When I move next month, I might think about re-negotiating my cable package. But I digress. This is about culture and respect and slumming.

I remember I had a writing professor in college who had published some short stories or essays about this and that. He wrote about how he grew up in a pretty affluent suburb, how his parents expected him to go to college, and how he managed to convince his guidance counselor at school to let him take four years of wood shop. He loved to work with his hands. He loved the guys in that class, the voc-tech guys, the ones who drank and partied on weekends, but at very different parties than the ones the football stars went to.

He wrote about working in construction all through college, and then working in construction after college, even getting to the point where he had a staff of full-timers that he paid on the books and everything and then he got scared that he might have to do it all his life so he scampered back to graduate school and eventually became a college instructor.

It was a great story.

But it irritated me.

I live among guys who took four years of wood shop in high school, but not because it was fun. They took shop because they were being trained by the system to have a useful trade to use in society. They had been judged not adequate for college prep track, but smart enough for skilled labor, and that's what they were being trained to do. Other kids were not smart enough for that and were simply funneled into the "general" track, hustled through, given a diploma and sent to work at the local paper mill or shoe factory.

These were kids. Kids whose lives had been decided and planned out for them early on. They didn't have any choices. The couldn't take wood shop because it was fun, they took it because it would make them a living for the next 50 years and that was important. Fun was tinkering with the engine of your car. Fun might be sketching on a doodle pad, or going fishing, but it wasn't wood shop. They knew they'd never get to college, and they knew that they'd almost always end up working for someone who did.

See, rural life combined with the poverty that often accompanies it puts limits on us. It forces people to make hard decisions early on. Like which kid is going to go to college and which kid is going to fix cars for a living. This is hard reality for us. It is not quaint. I met a guy yesterday who probably never finished high school. He runs a junk yard and a low-budget car dealership. He buys junkers at auction and fixes them up and resells them for cheap. He's got no teeth, but he knows everybody on this island, and their friends and relations and neighbors and histories. He asked where I lived, then where in that village I lived. I had to explain who my landlords were and he exactly knew the house. And the guy who used to own it, now long since departed. Guy hasn't got a tooth in his head, but he does have an oral history of the community stored in there. Somehow, city folks don't seem to know their neighbors that well. I only gave him my first name, but mentioned a mutual friend/acquaintance who had referred me. If and when he has something I might want to look at, he'll give her husband a yell at the town garage and she'll drop me a note on facebook to go take a look at the junkyard. That's how things work here. He doesn't need my last name. He knows how to get in touch with me.

I grew up in rural Maine. But my DNA was issued in the white-collar(ish) world of northeastern Massachusetts. I can function well enough down there for a while, but not for long. I need to be in the country to be comfortable. I need to be around people who will stop to help when your car is broken down beside the road. I need to be where people know how to raise a vegetable garden and how to keep deer out of the beans and woodchucks out of the rest. Without making a trip to the hardware store to do it. I tread the line between the working poor and middle class. I worry that the working poor might think I am "slumming" like those tourists I so resent. I don't care much what the middle class folks think. Just so long as they don't ask me to give them a tour of my world. Like I said, we're not an exhibit at a zoo. We've got as much dignity as we can muster and we'll keep it, thank you.

This is all going to play a role in my ministry, I think. I have no idea how, but it will factor into the equation. I may end up doing rural outreach. I may end up doing something with glbt people. I may end up doing something with other forms of minorities, or I may end up in a suburban congregation doing ministry there. I can't tell. That unknowing is a little unsettling still. I expect I will learn to flow with it, but for now it still makes me a little seasick when the boat rocks and pitches so.

It is morning. The cat has abandoned his perch on the windowsill since I moved my writing space up against it and has now taken over the dog's bed, which has the benefit of being soft, and in a window in the sun. The dog, sensibly, is still in bed beneath the covers. The sun it up long before me these days and spring approaches. This weekend we put the clocks ahead an hour, so maybe I'll see some more sunrises for a little while before summer arrives.

I have found a new place to live, off island. I will move house and household and cat and dog by May 1 to a tiny little trailer in Surry, Maine. Go look that up on the map if you will. It's smaller than Mount Desert, with a lot less tax base, and it's not on an island. But it IS much closer to the school I hope to attend this fall, and closer to my church and to the job where I am working now.
Please be patient with me as I muddle through this time of additional transition. I have no idea what my writing will do in the new place, but I know I will have a small room just for my study. It has a south-facing window so I can watch the sunrise and the sunset and room for bookshelves and all the things I need in an office. The kitchen and living rooms each have windows suitable for a cat or a dog. I'll let them work out who gets which. The kitchen has counter space that goes on for M-I-L-E-S and a nice new stove and fridge. The colors are rough right now, but the landlord is a friend and he's letting me paint them all whatever colors I'd like. This weekend I plan to go in and prime it all, and then paint the rooms over the course of the next couple weeks. It's close enough to where my job site is that I can bring a load of boxes or what have you to work with me each day and just drop them off. That's going to be nice. I won't have to rent a truck or organize a huge work party. I mean, I can still organize a work party, but it will be less traumatic this way. Anyway. I'll take some pictures and share them as progress is made. Thanks for tagging along on this adventure.


MRMacrum said...

Good to see you moving onto new and different things. Ruts are all too easy to stay trapped in once they reach a certain comfort level.

St Patricks Day - just another excuse like Halloween or Super Bowl, etc for the drunks to put on make up and get drunk in a different way. Means nothing to me and I am half Irish, half Scottish with who knows what else might have snuck in over the last 200 years. I could not care less what they do as long as they don't puke on my shoes.

Good luck with the transition. I'll be by to say hey on occasion.

msladydeborah said...

It sounds like you are making some important transitional moves. I hope that you'll take the time that you need to get settled in. You'll be in my positive thoughts and prayers.