Thursday, December 22, 2016

History. Whostory?

I'll openly admit that history is not my best subject. I appreciate it. I enjoy when it is told to me in engaging ways. It is certainly important.

I took a fair bit of history in grade school that I still remember. I don't remember all the details- dates and names and specifics- but I recall the overarching themes and lessons from each period and nation. Still, my knowledge of history is millions of miles behind Jonathan. To be fair, he's a history buff. I'll ask him a simple question about a basic historical fact and 15 minutes later he's managed to retell the entire story of some nation or people.

I've been wanting to increase my own knowledge of history but have always felt a little overwhelmed at where to start. I enjoy reading, but history books have never quit been my thing. I don't always enjoy documentaries, though there are some good ones. There are probably some decent audio programs out there.

It used to be that learning more history just wasn't really a priority in my extracurricular life. It's still not truly a priority, but more and more I've found myself wishing I had a better understanding of the context and past of different people and places to help me process the present. We've watched a few engaging documentaries recently that have helped start to fill in the large gaps in my history knowledge.

But, I still feel hesitant about diving in. I used to think I was just intimidated by the vast amount there is to learn. I'm coming to realize, however, that it isn't intimidation, but concern, that keeps me at arms length.

I feel concerned that what I read will only be one side of the story, that my view of a nation or people, and subsequent interpretation of history and even the present will be colored by an only partial truth, or worse, by a false retelling of events.

History, so often, is written and told by the victors, the powerful, the resourced. I know many true historians, past and present, place great value on truth and strive to retell the stories of the past with the greatest truth they can find. They do research and care about the information they are sharing with others. I appreciate their effort, but it doesn't feel good enough. I feel constantly concerned that whatever I choose to read or watch or listen to will only be part of the story. An honest effort to tell the whole story, perhaps, but still just a part. There will be people's voices who won't be heard.

Even two similar people can experience the same event or time period so differently. What and how they recall what happened will sound different. I know this to be true even from simple examples of my own life- my sister and I, I'm sure, would tell different versions of life together growing up. Neither are wrong, but neither is complete.

Current academic historians, I believe, do try to research and tell the fullest and truest version of history, though even they have special interests and agendas. But the primary documents they have and period literature they use to research is still generally written and told by the wealthy (not the losers of battles), powerful (dominant culture, men), and resourced (not the poor, uneducated). In school we're taught history as though it is fact- simply a set of events that have happened that we are to memorize and take for granted. But who decided on that version of events, on those set of facts?

So I find myself feeling trapped- wanting to learn about the past, but concerned I won't hear the whole story. Arguably, this is not a reason not to being learning (got to start somewhere). But, it does make me feel cautious. I don't have time to read multiple sources and accounts and vet authors and such. I haven't found a good solution to this discomfort. I know there are authors out there who focus on telling history from the perspective of the losers and powerless- their books aren't as fancy, mainstream media and publishing doesn't promote them in the same way, so they feel less credible, which is the whole problem to begin with! These are the people whose story wasn't incorporated into history the first time, it's hard to weasel your way in decades or centuries later.

Truth is so exhausting to search after, sometimes.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

100 Days

Today marks the 100 day mark in Tallahassee.

A few reflections on life here, with some (perhaps unfair) comparisons to DC and Philly.

Tallahassee is not a morning city, but I am a morning person. Streets and playgrounds and stores are close to empty until closer to 10:30 or 11am on the weekend. There are a few more serious runners out, but weekend mornings are very quiet.

Religion (Christianity, in particular) is a fair topic for conversation among almost near strangers. I was never once asked "where do you go to church" in DC by anyone but a close friend. Strangers ask this here. Politics, however, is not a fair topic for conversation. The city overall seems much less "in the know" about what goes on abroad and throughout the country. Perhaps it just isn't talked about.

People aren't as obsessed with work here. Work seems to start mostly at 8:30 or 9. None of that 7 or 7:30am craziness that happens in DC. It's not the first, or only thing people talk about. Then again, I don't have that many people I talk to regularly, so maybe they do. Tallahassee is less pretentious, a little more humble. People don't walk around thinking they have all the solutions and answers. Or at least that's my impression. People here don't go boozy brunching every weekend. They just eat normal breakfast and lunch. People seem to care most about comfort and security.

The first thing everyone says when they hear where we moved from is, "Wow, that is quite a change. How's it going?" Then they ask, "Why did you move?" Then, "Do you have any kids?" Then, "This really is a great place to raise a family. You'll learn to love it." I find that amusing, because I never say during these conversations that I'm not enjoying it here, it is inferred that because we moved from a big, bustling, full of life city, that we must find this place boring and conservative. Everyone feels the need to reassure us that this is a wonderful place to raise a family. I wonder what they would say if we didn't have kids? If we were single? Where does the need to reassure come from?

To elaborate a bit on the family friendly point- It is certainly nice to have more space, a yard, a safe street to run around in. There are some playgrounds and parks. There are weekly lists of "family friendly" events going on throughout the week. I find the term "family friendly" interesting. It just means your kids will like it, or will tolerate it, or will be tolerated. No guarantee that the whole family will actually feel they're meant to be there. BUT, I actually found both DC and Philly to be very family friendly. There are way more parks, playgrounds, public spaces to be in. When everyone owns/rents less personal space, more time is spent out in public. There are small playgrounds every few blocks, you can walk or metro to school/daycare/church/groceries/zoo/friends house. Here, it seems everyone has enough space in their yard and house, they don't need to go out as often. The streets always seem quiet. Where are all the kids playing outside? Don't people work in their front yards ever? Getting anywhere means at least a 15 minute car drive it seems, plus the hassle of getting in, out of the car, taking kid gear with you, buying gas...etc. In DC I don't think we used our car for anything except going to work, and then later on groceries.

Life rhythms in DC/Philly aren't about going to specific events/places most of the time. You just go out for a walk and spend a few minutes at the park, maybe pick up a gallon of milk, and head home 30 minutes later after running into at least 2-3 people you know and many others who look familiar. Your life syncs up with the life of the city- you become a part of it and it a part of you. Your feet are familiar with the cracks on the street and your eyes notice even small changes in your surroundings.

I don't hear gunshots in our back alley in Tallahassee, I've never left my wedding rings at home while running to lessen the chance that someone might mug me. I don't see people peeing on the side of our house when I leave for work in the morning. I don't walk by corners on which I can recall the names of young men and women who were shot in gang fights. But then, I also don't run into people I know while walking/metroing to work. I don't have the chance to talk with Theo about all the evil that is sometimes so blatantly obvious in big cities. (Good and evil, are everywhere, of course. But they look different in different places). I can't pop into a friend's house while going for a walk. I don't notice if our local school has planted a new garden or if the homeless man on the corner is gone. I just don't naturally see people as often. Maybe as I meet more people this will change.

Finally, race relations here feel quite different. It's hard to put my finger on exactly what is different. The city feels uncomfortable talking about race, out of practice. Though, it's clearly a segregated city. Philly and DC are exhausted from racial tensions- they're stuck in the fight to figure out how to live life closely with those who are different. I haven't figured out yet where Tallahassee is in that glorious battle. By numbers, Tallahassee is actually quite mixed, much more than I'd ever guess just driving around. Why is that? It is easy to live here and to never need to interact with those of a different race, class, religion if I don't want to (except for work). That isn't true for everyone here, but it does seem true for large swaths of the city. It requires great intention to be with those who are different because the city is set up in such a way that it doesn't happen naturally. It's why we intentionally put Theo in a daycare where he's one of few white kids, mixed mostly with Latino and Black kids. There are parts of the city where this seems to happen more easily, I'll admit. In DC/Philly, the city requires you to interact with those who are different. You can avoid doing so, but it takes intention. My feelings about this, too, may change as I get to know people and places more. But, after going to a historically black med school and living in an incredibly diverse city and neighborhood, life here feels a bit homogeneous. I've never lived anywhere where I felt a part of a religious majority, and it's been a while since I've lived so obviously as part of a racial majority (though my privileges by being a part of each of those groups have never diminished despite my geographic location).

I have a lot more learning and listening to do about this place. I'm sure all my observations are not reflection of the full truth of this place. They are just what I have experienced so far. Part of that experience comes not just from moving cities, but from also moving from one type of neighborhood to another, namely from lower income to higher income.

Life is full and complicated and best lived when all the hard questions of where and why and with whom to 'live and move and have our being' are brought to the light and struggled through in truth and grace.