Saturday, November 8, 2014

#songaday 8

I was moved this morning reading the tail-end of James McBride's The Good Lord Bird. The narrator, a black boy and freed slave who has gone through the entire book passing as a girl, has an epiphany as he is on a wagon leaving Harpers Ferry the day before John Brown's assault. McBride writes:

"You can play one part in your life, but you can't be that thing. You just playing it. You're not real. I was a Negro above all else, and Negroes plays their part, too: Hiding. Smiling. Pretending bondage is okay till they're free, and then what? Free to do what? To be like the white man? Is he so right? Not according to the Old Man. It occurred to me then that you is everything you are in this life at every moment."

This is the moment when the narrator realizes the intersection between his racial and gender identities. As a child in Brown's army, he has avoided living the past few years of his life in bondage. By passing as a girl, he has not been held responsible for many of the duties a young man would be expected of while part of a roving militia, let alone storming a military barracks. In the next scene, he chooses to be honest with his own identity, thereby actively putting himself in danger for the first time in the novel. He takes off his dress, hops off the wagon straight into Virginia slave territory, and begins to find his way back to Harpers Ferry in time to save John Brown's doomed efforts.

" is everything you are in this life at every moment." It's a line meant to pack a punch, I suppose. It's relevant to the book's political and social setting as well as adaptable to any life in any context. As I started writing today, this line crept back into my thoughts, and I thought about the different ways we see ourselves depending on our ever-changing thoughts, actions, and principles. I decided to write a repeating line ("You are who you are at this moment") and interchange it with descriptions of all sorts of good, bad, and neutral things I've done, most of them pretty mundane. The song is in second person, even though I was thinking about myself while writing it. I guess the point is that, even though we like to tell ourselves we are a certain way, and that certain things we do or say or more or less revealing of who we really are, we are always everything we are. At every moment.

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