Last night, I screwed up.
Jaimie and I were deciding between watching the Dark Knight or Coco. After some hemming and hawing, I chose Coco. Two hours later Jaimie was doing that cry thing where your face gets all distorted. It was like her stomach was crying. I didn’t know whether to give her a hug or one of my Ativans. I just patted her on the shoulder instead.
One of the objectives of the main character was to have his picture placed on his family’s ofrenda. If a person’s picture is on the ofrenda, then on the annual Day of the Dead celebration, he or she can visit the Land of the Living. “As long as a person's story is remembered on earth,” he said, “he or she lives on in the Land of the Dead.”
He said something after that, but I couldn’t hear it over Jaimie’s wails.
If I took one thing away from the State of the South tour, it’s that stories matter. Stories help shape the narrative of the region, and can lead to real life consequences for the people who live there.
For far too long the story coming out of the south is that of a white Republican listening to Kenny Chesney and shouting ‘Roll Tide’ at the top of his lungs. Or a place where everyone is on the the front porch smiling, funneling sweet tea down the gullets of anyone who has time to “sit a spell.”
It would be easy for a person to think that we were are all living in kind of Spanish moss dripped Midnight in the Garden of a Happy Plantation universe. Or that we are Driving All the Miss Daisys. Just one big version of the BlindsideHelp, which is a mashup of the movies the Blindside and The Help. #blindsidehelp
Where is the story of the self-proclaimed “Black Theatre Nerd” we met in Memphis? This man owns a moving company and is the house manager of one of the theatre companies there. He told us how white people still cross the street when he passes by, even though he dresses like he’s a straight up J. Crew Model.
Where is the story of daughter of a Kurdhish woman we met at the Islamic Center of Nashville? She wears a headdress and has spent her whole life in Tennessee. She’s every bit as southern as those dumb fucks with the confederate flags. Or what about the teenagers who started a Gay Student Alliance at their high school, only to be told they needed parental permission to form the club? One of the students had yet to come out. Now there’s a fucking play!!
Then there was the Episcopal Seminarian attempting to unpack the Confederate Monuments at the University of the South. Or Diedra, the African-American woman in Jackson who wore sunglasses the whole event because she could no longer handle the foolishness. I would love to watch her be the two hours traffic of some stage. Or perhaps I could interest you in the deputy cop in Nashville who was also a poet? Or the woman who ran the Spanish Writer’s Club in Greenville? I could go on and on and on.
Our theatrical ofrendas have been filled up with pictures of Tennessee Williams for far too long. He’s clearly a genius, but I know The Glass Menagerie. My heart has broken for Blanche DuBois time and again. I’m ready for it to be broken by those two gorgeous sisters in Elaine, AK, who are dying for an opportunity but can't afford to leave and start a better life. “You should hear her sing. It will melt you, ” said one sister about the other. I asked her if she could repeat herself, because I couldn’t hear her over the 7000th production of Greater Tuna.
These stories are out there. Stories that reflect the vastness of this rich and complicated region. Stories that could blow up stereotypes and make people feel less alone. There are writers who want to tell those stories, too. But like August Wilson said, new writers are often relegated to the side stages, when they are given a place at all.
So these stories wound up being forgotten, even though they are happening now, in broad daylight, in cities and towns all around us.
I knew I should have chosen Dark Knight.