Today’s been quite productive. I hooked up my fancy schmancy new printer and got to work. (And yes, printers do aid in the act of writing–at least in this part of my process they do.)
I’m about halfway through one story and should have it done tomorrow. The thing that’s slowing me down, though, is the research. I have just a couple of smallish yet weighty facts that I need to learn more about. Sometimes my writing takes me places I’d rather not go, but as writers must often do, I go there. I may not like it, may not know quite enough about it, but I have to. In this particular story, one of the characters is a member of the KKK (I’d prefer not to go into any more details of the story). So I’ve found myself written into a dark and frightening corner and I’m not able to escape until I learn a little more about some of the religious tracts the Klan produces. Finding that sort of info is harder than it may seem. I’ve had to wallow through miles of white supremacists’ muck today and my brain is not only tired, but saddened. Sickened.
There are some things I’d rather not learn much about. More to the point, there are some things I’d rather not have to learn about from specific sources. I’ve had to read page after page from KKK websites, thousands of words proclaiming messages of hate, thousands of words proclaiming that what they’re trying to convey isn’t about hate, but, rather, the ‘truth.’ That people can believe in such things amazes me. And that they can proclaim their beliefs to be true and just–well, that scares the hell out of me.
And I suppose that’s their goal in some ways.
My goal, on the other hand, is to interrogate that notion of truth and write about its hazards. It’s something I have to do, something I owe my characters and myself. I grew up in the south and I witnessed some of the most heinous acts, and heard some of the most hateful conversations you can imagine.
And here’s the other thing (which, at first, may seem unrelated): Tonight I made barbeque. No, I didn’t grill a steak or hamburger. I had true SC barbeque–shredded pork drenched in a mustard-based sauce. You can’t find that sort of thing anywhere near here. The sauce is made by a guy named Maurice Bessinger. He’s one hell of a bigot, a horrible person. His product labels include more than just the product name and nutritional information. There’s the Confederate flag, the SC state flag and a message declaring this to be a sauce made proudly in the ‘soverign state of SC.’ I grew up on this stuff. Of course, the product didn’t used to make such proclamations. Things changed for the Bessinger business a few years ago when Maurice chose to fly the Confederate flag in place of the American flag above his headquarters. And then there were the religious tracts he offered in his businesses, claiming that slaves actually had it pretty good. Maurice’s labeling is meant as a defense; he’s speaking to those he claims have denied him the freedom of speech. There’s a lot of details I’m leaving out of this story, all for the sake of brevity. If you want to know more, just ask.
The combination of my research and tonight’s dinner–knowing the story behind what I was eating–has me feeling a little sick to my stomach. And even though I remind myself of my obligation to my characters, it’s hard to go on with the research, hard to continue the story. I’ve written myself into this space where I question much about the act of writing, of its purposes and conveyances. And then I remember: this is what it’s all about. This is why I write: for the agony of the task, for the success of saying what needs to be said, showing what needs to be reveiled. And I feel extremely fortunate to have this week off, to be able to get back into what I love doing, hard as it may be.