When I do manage to write something these days, I seem to keep returning my hobbyhorse of narratives.
Here’s another example.
First, the narrative(s): we are regularly and forcefully told that if you are of a certain gender, ethnicity, race, class or from a certain region, you believe X and are concerned with Y above all things. And so the stories about Life Today that are told, especially by the lazy, are created, not by listening and retelling what has been heard from real people, but by carrying one’s narrative out into the field (or onto the Internet – usually as far as it goes these days) and filling in the blanks with what fits, ignoring what doesn’t.
Here’s why your narratives suck.
Just a couple of hours ago, I was in the Dollar General store down the road, here in my area of town called Woodlawn.
I got to the checkout and there was a lively yet friendly conversation happening between two middle-aged African American men who were both working there and a middle-aged, and definitely world-weary, wiry, mustachioed white customer.
I have no idea what the starting positions were, but as I approached, the white guy was going OFF on what he called the “Muslim Ban” saying (I paraphrase):
“They all want to kill us all anyway. And if they want to kill us, you can’t keep ‘em out. And the ones that are already here – and there’s a lot of em – are just going to get pissed off.”
The other men nodded, either out of politeness or because they agreed, who knows.
So he went out the door, resigned to his fate of being blown to smithereens, and the guy behind the counter said,
“The two best presidents of my lifetime were” – he scanned my Diet Coke – “Reagan and Clinton.”
The other man, who’d been stocking, added, “They were good, but I always liked Carter – they said he was weak, but I did pretty well under Carter.”
“Clinton’s where I made my money. I did good with Clinton.”
And they spent a couple of seconds talking, first about Billy Beer, and then about Amy Carter, who they said they felt sorry for, and who one of them said was like the Lucille Ball of the White House – which I couldn’t figure out for the life of me.
Not a word about Obama.
And then one of them wrapped it up.
“Here’s the thing about Trump,” he said. “He’s a rich guy. Rich guys say what they want and do what they want and no one says anything to them. He’s used to that.”
While I was pondering this, probably the wisest comment I’ve heard in three weeks, he continued,
“He’s got to get used to something new now and just settle down. He’ll be all right. It’ll be all right.”
Call it Woodlawn Elegy. There you go. If we don’t get into any more wars and the economy improves so these guys can feel that their lives and incomes are getting better? Narrative, busted. Again.