So, I lost my court battle to move back to the USA.
It’s taken me some time to process this, and I still have anger regarding it; as I said in a previous post, it has felt like the death of a loved one. The future that I’d built up in my mind no longer exists, and I’ve been coming to terms with that. Now, I’m faced with more of the same, which isn’t actually a bad thing — my life revolves around my children, taking them to and from school, feeding them, teaching them, playing with them. That would have translated over into my new life, so I haven’t lost everything thank God. It’s the loneliness, the quietness that I wanted to leave. I have no one here. The British have a phrase for it — “Benny no mates.” It’s something I first learned when watching a Peter Kay stand-up routine years ago, and incorporated it into my identity immediately. Even writing this, I’m ashamed at the level of self-pity that I’m wallowing in. That’s another bad habit I need to fix.
“They” always say, “When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” I think that’s the kind of thing one has to tell oneself when shit doesn’t go the way one planned. But, if there was any window cracking open in this slammed-door-in-my-face scenario, it’s that I’ve got the chance now to focus on the one thing that truly is part of my identity — writing. Somewhere between 2015, when I applied the first time to go home, and this year, I’d developed the idea that when my kids were both at school full-time, I’d just stay home and write. Who has the chance to do that??? That’s an amazing opportunity. Maybe, just maybe even more amazing than the one I’ve given up (teaching writing at university in my home town, near my family). Yup, I’d get by for as long as possible on child tax credits and the like, and just force myself to stay at home and focus on creating.
Throughout my life, I’ve never really known where I’m supposed to fit in or what I’m supposed to be doing. I’ve gone through more phases than the moon cycles throughout the year; I’ve kissed the Torah as it made its way past in a Jewish synagogue; I’ve lived on a marijuana farm in Tennessee; I’ve learned African djembe rhythms from the greatest Guinean teachers; I’ve driven a taxi in downtown Detroit; I’ve driven across four States to see the greatest living poet of our time, nearly killing myself in the process; I’ve sold everything, from doors to shoes; I’ve edited speeches for a women’s revolutionary group in Afghanistan; I’ve lived in England. Those are not even half of the adventures I’ve had. Throughout all of it, I’ve discovered things about myself — that I’m not Jewish, gay, Hindu or any of the other religions out there, for one thing. I’ve also learned about those cultures and identities, and in the process, was able to appreciate them more. But one thing I’ve always known is that I’m a writer.
If I wasn’t, then I’m sure that after all of the above, I’d just be plain insane. Maybe it’s similar to the idea of an actor getting into character — I knew if I was going to write about people, I’d have to know the many different people that are out there. It’s led me to appreciate people more, and I can understand more than ever that when someone speaks, it’s from their own unique cultural worldview, and when they speak, what comes out of their mouth reflects their perspective that’s been built over the course of their lifetime and their experiences. That’s why I can understand why someone in the South identifies with the Union flag; it’s not at all about racism for them, it’s about where they grew up, probably the songs their mother sang to them as a child, it’s about a unique musical heritage, a reverence for God and the beauty of their natural surroundings — and most of all, about being proud to belong to something that stands for all of that. I can also understand why someone else would think that the union flag is offensive; it stands for all the negative things that the USA is trying to move on from; its very existence is an affront, representing a long line of dead black bodies that shows every sign of continuing into the future. To be “proud” of something that represents the total destruction of another’s freedoms is a sickening mindset that they could never be able to understand. In their minds, it’s impossible to reconcile a cultural heritage that was built on denying someone every right, from being able to own property, receiving an education, to being able to protect their children from sexual or physical abuse.
It’s a symbol, for both, and that’s the most astounding thing for me: it’s a flag, a piece of cloth — but it can mean two totally different things to people. Neither, in my opinion is wrong. How can anyone assume to dismiss someone’s entire cultural identity, for everything they ever knew and experienced and continue to believe in? And equally, how can anyone say that cultural identity is more important than the abuses inflicted on a large percentage of the population? Being a writer means I know both views are important. I think the inherent difficulty is the matter of personal belief — whether the person who identifies with that union flag also believes in the inferiority of black people. I believe many people assume this belief, with no proof whatsoever that the person in question holds these opinions. Of course there will be some who embrace both: some people will identify culturally with the union flag, and also believe in the inferiority of the black person. However, beliefs on racial superiorities and inferiorities are not confined to people in the southern half of the United States. Racism can be found in all areas, in all countries. It’s a belief system, nothing more. It is important to confront these beliefs, but no one can ultimately expect to govern the realm of the mind. What one can do is to ensure that the laws provide an inescapable, unbreakable foundation for preventing such evil to dominate again, no matter anyone’s personal beliefs.
So this is just one example; there are hundreds of symbols out there that stand for one thing in the eyes of one person, and mean something completely different to someone else. As a writer, I’m interested in each person’s story, for all stories are valuable to me. I am the teller of the tale, not the judge of the worthiness of the characters about whom the tale is told.
And so, as my own tale remains unchanged, for now at least — I will work on the one thing that I know, the part of me that supersedes all phases and stages of who I’ve realized I’m not. I’m a writer, I know that much, and even though I’ve received a crushing blow, at least I can still go on doing what I know how to do, even if I continue to be a Benny-no-mates. From what felt like a position of powerlessness, I can try to find my way to an acceptance, and appreciation, for what truly could be viewed as a position of freedom.
It all comes down to how you look at things.