I remember the first time I stepped into a Buddhist curiosity shop. They had Tibetan singing bowls there. The shopkeeper ran the pestle around the stone. The sounds were melodious, in harmony, and I had never heard anything similar before.
There are horrifying stories about gender discrimination and sexism coming out in the wake of a brave woman’s blogpost about her experiences at one of the companies here. I have the greatest sympathy for her, and admiration for her courage.
Friends of mine asked me about a previous boss, who had made life hell on earth by his behavior. I navigated away from the past, as I usually do, unwilling to look back, unwilling to open any page of my book that is not a pleasant experience.
Walking through life, I find, for my temperament, that lessons are more valuable than memories, when it comes to trauma or negative experiences. My artistic impulses, and my creative side, suffer for a prolonged period of time if I fight for reason or justice instead of moving on to more pleasant matters.
I find myself changed (reserved, less willing to embrace the benefit of doubt), in many ways, from the sum of my experiences over the years, many of which arose out of two toxic relationships which had both only a single matter in common: a peculiar attachment to the gender beliefs of an older generation. I spent a great deal of time wondering about the hows and the whys, about why I had accepted these beliefs (my live-and-let-live policy often brings me grief), about my own principles and what it meant to live by them. Global unsettlement, over quality of living, over globalisation, over finding victims and casting stones at the supposedly guilty, evokes many of the same issues that arose in my personal experiences. When our beliefs (about gender roles, about racial matters, about immigrants, about government) clash with reality, it makes for unpleasant, and perhaps, inevitable witch-hunts.
I am optimistic, still. Why?
I remember being frightened out of my wits by the life I had back in 2011. I was in a new country, labelled an alien. I found the unrestrained capitalism and the income divide appalling. I had no idea how to fit in, or if I even could. Unlike many people in my circles, my reason to come here was not to seek adventure, or a better quality of life. I was only fleeing, seeking refuge from everything broken that had been my existence before. The society I grew up is not kind to those who can’t buy into its mores. I was shattered by twenty, exhausted by the effort of trying to resist, and anywhere else sounded like heaven. I ended up in Atlanta. I had no idea what to expect, if it would be better or worse, only that anywhere, any place was better than where I had been.
The stereotypes about people from my country were hard to break, and harder to live with, as I have had consistently very little in common with the beliefs or the culture that gave rise to those stereotypes. I had to find people to connect to, all over again. I had no family at hand, nor friends. In the coming months and years, I made more mistakes than healthy or sane decisions. Yet, the one good thing that happened, which stands out the most in my mind, was going to the symphony and being accosted by Sibelius. I think I may have seen this country differently from how many from my country might have, thanks to Sibelius. I was not part of any cultural organizations and I was not subscribed to the majority religions. These factors, along with my values and beliefs, made my interactions limited and awkward with most peer groups from my country. In Sibelius and his family, though, I found the Lady Liberty’s American Dream spun in gold. I had been poor and hungry, miserable and wretched. They took me in, gave me many Thanksgivings and Christmases and Sunday dinners. They were hardworking and cheerful, always ready to give advice if asked, willing to provide help if necessary, and genuinely proud of their country and their veterans. They were willing to acknowledge the darker parts of their history, which was also the history of the American South, and lamented over the slow pace of change in many human rights issues still. Throughout the many changes in my life over those formative years, as I navigated my career and my personal relationships, they were there with their unbounded optimism and endless buckets of raw, infectious enthusiasm for life and country. In the beginning, I had no idea what to make of what seemed to me to be naive optimism. I know differently now. I know that their way of living is sunny-side up and fierce, just as their hearts, and they truly believe that is how their country is, and they take their feral swine hunting just as seriously as they take their protests about human rights lapses and certain government policies.
So I am optimistic still, about many things. Being here is not easy, but I have learned so much about this country from its people, people who were kind and brave and fiercely keen on doing the right things. Being here is not easy, but here was the first place where I have felt safe, tolerated, and comfortable. Being here is not easy, but I haven’t known easier. It is all as it is, though, and I am fortunately stronger than I was in 2011. I may have to make drastic decisions about location, about leaving behind people and places, but it could still turn out all right.
You and I are alive, and there is still tomorrow, and tomorrow is usually better than today.