Saturday, February 25, 2012

Reality Check

I’m swimming in the muck of my emotions this week. It’s tiring and I can’t see the shoreline. You might imagine that it sucks to be me lately. But I’m not feeling that. I’m all in for the journey. Sometimes I just let go and allow my feelings to sling some shit, and this is one of those times.
I think we are veering away from emotions lately except for anger maybe. I know lots of people who are angry. They’re angry we have a black president. They’re angry the dag gum government is making them pay taxes. They’re angry the dag gum government isn’t imposing Christian beliefs in the bedroom and in women’s vaginas. They’re angry because they can’t conceal weapons while picnicking in the state parks. They’re angry ethnic minorities are growing in numbers in our country. They’re angry because they are white and it doesn’t matter like it used to.
Others quash their emotions with drugs – prescription, legal or illegal. Then they don’t have to feel a thing.
Others keep it light: OMG, LMFAO, SMH (what does that even mean?).
Some live vicariously through reality TV. Okay, I admit my infatuation with it, but I promise you, I don’t inhale.
But why are we so fascinated? Do you remember the first reality show? It was called The American Family and it ran on PBS in 1973. I partook. The Louds, the family filmed for the show, claimed editing emphasized the negatives. Others thought they used the presence of the cameras as an opportunity to behave badly. Oldest son Lance came out in front of the cameras while mom Pat asked her husband Bill for a divorce.
The show led the way for other shows such as Real World that debuted on MTV. Now we are bombarded with reality shows, but I think reality has gone for a swim.
I watch three shows regularly: American Idol, America’s Next Top Model, and Dance Moms. I have partaken in occasional voyeurism with shows such as Toddlers & Tiaras, Dancing with the Stars, Pawn Stars, Call of the Wildman and a few others as well as several shows on HGTV. Aside from sometimes sapping my emotions and my intelligence (I can only hope they are regenerative), I can’t quite figure out why I am so drawn to these types of shows.
Maybe I am drawn because the shows are like memoir, aren’t they? They don’t show every agonizing moment, thank you very much, but edit it all down to fit into a defined time frame and particular topic or event. The dramatic content is there for effect, to make the viewer feel something.
The genre of memoir has felt the sting of slung shit. John D’Agata, author of About a Mountain, is in the ring of reality right now. He is defending his right to alter facts in order to serve the literary art of essay writing. Now he didn’t say it quite like that, but that’s how I perceive the fight. I read About a Mountain and I liked it, even as I came upon escalating statistics and variations of the truth. The book made me feel something. But I cannot say what I feel about the altering of verifiable facts because, as D’Agata argued, facts are often biased, just ask any politician. I’ve been guilty of it myself, and I can’t imagine a single one of you, readers, who can honestly say you’ve never used a fact that is purposely slanted to support what you wanted to say. Go back up to my paragraph on angry people. See what I mean?
My sister emailed me to tell me, among other things, that she read my post about our library visits when we were kids, but she told me I had the library wrong. It was not the NYS Public Library but the Harmonus Bleeker Library on Dove Street. She said she loved that place, too. Did it matter in my reminiscence that I got the library wrong? Is it considered an untruth because my child’s mind and my adult memory melded two places into one? I don’t think so. I recalled the feel of the place and the memory, and Peggy, my sister, knew exactly what I was talking about. As for the rest of you readers, does the exact place really matter?
So where does that leave truth and reality? We are mere humans, and truth is elusive because it will always be perceived through the lenses we wear. Those lenses are prescribed by ethnicity, culture, race, class, gender, age, sexual orientation, education, religious beliefs, experience, nature and nurture. Reality? Still viewed and perceived through those same lenses. We are flawed. That’s why I don’t mind swimming in the muck every once in a while.
Here’s some reality for you, readers, from my memoir. And, no, I wasn’t there.
(Excerpt from Chapter 6: Being Black All by Myself, Salt and Pepper: A Memoir about Interracial Love – still waiting to hear your opinion on the title)
A week later Ronald was on overtime duty at Fire Station 6. They responded to a fire call at the parking garage of the hospital – smoke on the roof, origin unknown. A blizzard pelted the region, the accumulation of snow already over a foot. The temperature was somewhere in the teens. The smoke was heavy, the snow was heavy, and visibility was zero. Ronald and his partner carefully made their way through the snowy, smoky fog, looking for the source of the fire.
I had left work early to pick up my parents-in-law. Sylvester Sr. had an appointment for a biopsy of his prostate gland, and he would not be able to drive afterwards. Though I hated driving during a snowstorm, I wanted to be there for both Sylvester and Bertha.
Ronald found the source of the smoke and fire – the equipment room – and turned to head toward it when he slipped on hard packed snow, slid backwards, and fell. He suddenly felt water all around him. His seventy pounds of fire equipment dragged him down, down, down, below the surface, and he wondered if he would touch bottom. He did – seven feet down. He wore his breathing apparatus, and he pushed and fought his way back up. When he broke the surface, he found himself trapped in a watery, oily, debris-filled drainage pit with smooth concrete sides and the edge of the pit three feet above him. He closed his eyes.
“Tread water,” Ronald said in his mind, remembering the first time we took adult swim lessons and the instructor nicknamed him “the Rock” because he immediately sank to the bottom of the pool. Ronald could not reach his radio and stay afloat, and he wondered if anyone knew that he had slipped into the drainage pit.
His partner had seen him disappear and radioed for help. There were men in the bucket truck parked at the side of the garage and they had seen him disappear, too. They sent a search and rescue crew. After several minutes of searching through the snow and smoke, they located the drainage pit – the grated lid had been removed to plow the large amounts of snow directly into it, but the discovery of the smoke had led to emergency calls and the lid was forgotten. They made their way toward it.
Ronald began to tire and thought he might slip back under the surface. He looked at the oil swirling in rainbows around his arms and the garbage closing in on him. The chill drilled into his bones and made them ache and grow heavy. Anxiety tightened his chest and, despite his breathing apparatus, no air reached his lungs. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, his arms and legs slowing to near inertia.
He thought, “This is it; no one will find me.” Then he felt his mother’s hands tying his hood just the way he remembered her doing it when he was a boy; he smelled the lotion on her hands; and he heard the comforting sound of the string running through the hood of his jacket. Peace lay gently over him. The sound of voices, muffled as if deep inside his head, and the feel of hands yanking him out of the cold, wet tomb broke the memory’s spell.

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