Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Love and Shame

Lots of people have written to tell me that they are very disappointed in me for making my Facebook status “Silas House has never before been ashamed to be a Kentuckian” last night, when election results were coming in. I meant for my status to be intentionally inflammatory and hyperbolic, to properly express my disbelief that someone I find to be a laughable candidate could be elected. Perhaps it was a poor choice of words because now that I look deep into myself, I realize that I am not ashamed to be a Kentuckian.

But in that moment I was, and I cannot deny that. I am not ashamed to be a Kentuckian, but I am embarrassed (and yes, ashamed) that we put someone like Rand Paul into office. I am embarrassed that my state will be represented by Paul for the next SIX years.

I’m embarrassed because of things he has said like this: "I don't think anyone’s going to be missing a hill or two around here,” about mountaintop removal, an issue that is absolutely dividing the Appalachian people and leading to widespread suffering on many fronts. That is simplifying an issue that is near and dear to my heart, as people I know and love are suffering because of MTR (because of loss of jobs, pollution, fear, etc.).

I’m embarrassed because of his close-minded views on equality and education and taxation and so many other things.

I’m embarrassed that a man voted to represent my state is so ignorant of the state’s rich history that he said in a national magazine he had no idea why Harlan County is so famous (it’s because of the bloody coal wars of the 1920s, when Appalachians actually stood up for what they believed in and fought back against big company greed) and went onto say that he did, however, know why Hazard is well-known: because “it’s famous for, like, 'The Dukes of Hazzard'.” That TV show was set in Georgia, not Kentucky and Hazard, Kentucky is a place of dignity and beauty that shouldn’t be reduced by him to being known only because of a television show.

I’m embarrassed because he said this in relation to the Civil Rights Act: "I mean, if you don't trace your ancestry to northern Europe and you're really hungry, if you ask nicely, maybe they'll let you come in. I mean, these are things we can solve without laws and stuff." We actually elected someone who said that. Disgusting. Obviously we couldn’t solve those things without laws, which is why the laws were passed.

I could go on. But I don’t want to talk about all the reasons I’m embarrassed by Rand Paul.

I want to let you know that I believe a person can sometimes be ashamed or embarrassed of a place and also love it without missing a beat. In fact, sometimes I love the place for the same reasons I get frustrated at it. Love is complex. So is shame.

So perhaps I wrote a facebook status in a moment of emotion. And while I might have a second thought about it, I will not apologize for it. Because in that moment, I felt it, I believed it, and that is my right.

Some of you have written to say that as an artist I should keep my political beliefs to myself, to not mix politics and entertainment, to keep my beliefs mysterious so they don’t interfere with my writing. Some of you have written to tell me I should keep my “mouth shut” because it’s none of my business (it is), that I should "shut the hell up" (I won't), that I’ve gotten above my raising (I haven’t), and because I’m wrong (that’s your opinion).

Just because I write fiction doesn’t mean that I don’t have a right to my own opinion, to my own truth.

Lots of you have told me that I shouldn’t have said I was ashamed because I am a “representative of Kentucky.” I am humbled and honored that you think as much, but I also have to point out that a representative of a particular place would be doing that place a disservice by romanticizing it, or by only illuminating what is positive about it. Everywhere I go, I try to tell people that Kentucky is a COMPLEX place. Because people have one of two stereotypes about this place: they think it’s either “beautiful and simple” or “stupid and simple.” The thing you might notice there is that unequivocally ignorant people think that Kentucky is simple, that things move slowly here, that we are not as complex as other people. The thing I zoom in on is their perception of us being stupid and simple and slow. Because we are not a simple people. We’re complex, and that’s what I want people to know. Still, it would be wrong of me to go around saying that everything is perfect in Kentucky, because it’s not. But I believe that no matter where I go people can feel the love I have for this place and its people in the way I talk about it, the way I write about it.

I have been a published writer for almost ten years. In that time I’ve been accused of perpetuating stereotypes and breaking stereotypes. All I’ve ever tried to do is tell the truth about the one little postage-stamp-sized patch of Kentucky land that I know and love, the same piece of land that sometimes perplexes and frustrates me.

Kentucky is beautiful and wonderful because of its diversity and complexity, not in spite of it, and that’s why I wish we had a senator who was celebrating that. Which reminds me, someone last night pointed out that almost half of all Kentuckians—about 45%--voted against Paul. Which means that we are not as single-minded as people might think.

That’s something to be proud of.