Remembering Appomattox

Here in Australia and also in New Zealand, there have been a lot of memorials commemorating the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli where many Australian & New Zealand soldiers died and where Australian and New Zealand identity within the commonwealth was strengthened.

In the US, April 9th commemorates an important anniversary (although the date is not so widely remembered), the surrender of the Confederate troops at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

The Last Salute

This year marks 150 years since that surrender and its lasting effect on national identity. No longer was the USA, a collection of states, but rather a unified country.

Despite all of our many regional differences, there are some core beliefs that Americans hold true which are that everyone is equal and has a right to pursue their dreams.

It is somewhat of a shame that April 9th is not as widely commemorated as other dates in US history, however you could easily say that is a reflection of the overall legacy of the Civil War itself. CNN posted this article 4 years ago (on the anniversary of the start of the Civil War) about “4 Ways We’re Still Fighting The Civil War,” and this article from Time asks the same question.

Yet, what I find rather fascinating is while there was a rush of articles to commemorate the anniversary of the start of the Civil War, there’s not so many about the end of it, and about the healing and successes since then, which undoubtedly there have been. (Frankly, myself and my whole family are a testament to that.)

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Rebirth…and the fear of writing

I’ll be honest with you, it has been a long time between proverbial drinks.

There was a time wherein I would excuse my absences from blogging as “going out and having a life.” At 36, that excuse doesn’t quite hack it any more.

The real reason most likely is that I got afraid of writing. I started to think that there is really nothing I have to add to the global cacophony, so I retreated inward.

For my working life, that probably was the wisest decision I could’ve done at the time, but for my emotional health, that was the worst decision, because it cut me off from why I so strongly pursued being a writer for many years: a belief that my voice and perspective is valid and will always be valid.

Lest you think I’m sounding cocky, the fact that I believe that my voice is valid does not mean that others aren’t, quite the opposite, it is only through dialogue and interaction that we grow as writers, as artists, and as people.

Confidence, I believe, is something that a lot of writers either have in abundance or scarcely at all. There has to be something driving that urge to write and to publicly share that writing, and writing is itself a builder of and destroyer of confidence.

For me, every time I see a blank screen, I am struck with a high degree of both terror and anticipation. Believe you me, I wish I could separate these two, but alas, they always come in a pair, like sweet-and-sour yin yang,

The terror is somewhat technical: all that empty space that I’m supposed to fill up with my thoughts while a word counter ever so languidly ticks over yet another word. (Aren’t word counters the worst? It’s like a return to those halcyon days of 1000 word essay writing assignments.)

The anticipation is a bit harder to describe: I know something is going to come out, but I don’t know exactly what it will be and what it will reveal about myself.

I do know one thing, though, that the longer I hold it in my internal world, the more crowded my head becomes.

And that is the main reason for why I’m reawakening this corner of the internet. My thoughts have become too crowded inside my head, and that’s not what I want my internal world to be like.

Rainbow

Rainbow

Father-Son Lessons from beyond

My relationship with my father was “civil,” which frankly was quite a minor miracle, because it could’ve been much worse as he was operating with the psychological handicap of being a vet of the Korean and Vietnam wars. The best way to describe it is that there was a certain melancholy around him that happened before I was born, and there was likely nothing I could’ve done to really make it disappear.

I mention the distant relationship I had with my father because this feature from NPR explained so much of my father’s seemingly odd behaviour when I was growing up.

When my parents moved to Mequon (a predominantly white suburb of Milwaukee), my father took it upon himself to introduce himself to the local police, thinking that if they knew him as a person and not just “some black guy” he wouldn’t be treated for being “black in the wrong place” (and honestly in the late 1970s you couldn’t fault his logic).

His strategy did work, as the one time he was racially profiled by a [nervous and subconsciously bigoted local], he had the police very much on his side, and the accuser rightfully had a lot of proverbial egg on their face.

All that said, growing up, I noticed that my father went out to of his way to avoid being alone in public without either myself, my mother, or preferably both of us. Much like the man in the NPR piece, I think it was because of that “thug” perception. He saw himself as a family man, but was aware (presumably from a traumatic experience) that the perception others would have of him would be considerably different. So my mother & I were his armour. Racism terrified a man who was a Vietnam POV.

And not once did he mention this directly, but he taught me to always carry myself in a somewhat deferential (but still proud) manner as a black man.

And even to this day when I’m in public, I feel a degree of anxiety about someone saying something based solely on my appearance, an appearance that I can’t do anything about. Whether it’s from being black, being gay, being American, I can never relax fully as the only black man in the room.

This seems to be unique to black men, as my mother never displayed or expressed any hesitation about being on her own in public in Mequon. Having grown up in Mequon, I was at ease there (it was my home, after all), but in places that are like it, I find myself getting the nervousness and hesitation that I think my father must’ve had.

Still, I manage to challenge my comfort zone–(If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have ever left Mequon!)–if only because I believe that one day I will feel relaxed as the only one whatever in the room.

My father passed away in 2002, so I have no idea what he would’ve made of the Michael Brown shooting. I can say that from the scant bits of news we get on it here in Australia, that a bit of a chill goes down my spine. I know that no matter what I have done and achieved, I can never override someone’s prejudices that they have in a split second. And that could very well be that second which determines if I live or die.

Below: The view out the window on Christmas morning at the house I grew up in Mequon.christmasmorning2008.jpg

When I Think of Home Now

As I write this I’m watching the final of the Rugby League Four Nations. For those unfamiliar with Rugby League this is a biennial tournament between Australia, England, New Zealand, and one other (un)lucky country.

This year the final is between Australia and New Zealand. Prior to last year, anytime Australia or New Zealand play, I have always stayed politely neutral, as I’m an Australian permanent resident and also a Kiwiphile.

After living in New Zealand for a year, however, I’ve changed.

I’m a Kiwi.

Well, I’m an American-New Zealander who lives in Australia.

Having lived outside of the U.S. for almost 6 years, I’ve seen my sense of what nationality I am become a lot more complicated that I ever thought it could be.

The best way I could describe it is with something I call the “warm, fuzzy feeling factor.” When you think of a place that gives you that feeling where is it? (Note, for Dutch speakers think “gezellig” or for Welsh speakers “hiraeth.”)

For me, I think of several places instantly :

A snowy morning in Wisconsin, an autumn afternoon in New York, an evening in Wellington or Rotorua, and a foggy morning in Auckland.

These places and the time I spent in them remind me of times I’ve felt grounded and certain.

That’s home in my book, and yes, it’s odd that with as many years as I’ve lived here in Australia, it hasn’t yet felt like home.

It’s a bit hard to feel grounded when to this day whenever I meet someone and they know that I’ve lived here for a long time I still get asked what I think of Australia. Maybe it’s me, but I think 5 years is a sign that I think it’s pretty nice place.

The next question tends to be do I think I might go back to the U.S. Which is a rather odd question for me personally, since though I’m from the U.S. (and as I’ve also pointed out here before, the U.S. is itself more like 50 separate countries), the country has moved on since I left and so have I. So who’s to say that we’ll be able to get in sync again like we were when I was younger?

Home is where the heart is, as the old saying goes. In my opinion, the heart thrives where it feels supported and part of a greater “family.” (Probably I should say “whanau.”)

This isn’t to say that Australia won’t ever invoke those feelings, it’s just that Australia is not going to make it easy.

And the strange thing, the fact that it won’t, probably makes me love it more.

By the way, as I type this New Zealand is beating Australia 14 to 12.

Āe.

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