I have a bunch of books here on my table that I’m not reading and a few more in the background of my laptop I’m also not reading. They are all related to the work in progress, “The Schneebelis Come to America” even though that’s not the real title and I’m still not sure whether, in the book, they will actually arrive.
Writing historical fiction requires a lot of studying, and when you study you learn stuff. When you learn stuff you aren’t the same person anymore. Everything you learn sets you apart from people who haven’t learned the same thing. I kind of think that’s why we send all the kids to schools where they learn a relatively standardized curriculum.
Right now we’re having the hullabaloo about the president calling certain impoverished nations “Shitholes” and wondering why we couldn’t get some immigrants from Norway. I don’t know why, but that flipped a switch in my mind. I became completely disgusted. My disgust stemmed not only from the remark, but from the reactions to the remark, noise from people about how that’s “not the way we treat immigrants in America.” Excuse me, but it IS the way we treat immigrants in America. The immigrants who first settled this continent were ALWAYS afraid that they would be asked to support poor dirty people coming in on boats from some nasty place such as the Alsace or Karlsruhe or Limerick or Trento or Seville…
I know this very well now because the last few years of my life have been spent studying early migration to America. It’s awful, uninspiring and shameful. I’ve read Philadelphia newspapers (thanks Ben Franklin) with published complaints about the “poor dirty people from German-speaking countries who are ruining our colony.” Yep. “Pretty soon the colony will be speaking German!”
Who were those “poor dirty people”? My ancestors. My ancestors were complaining about my ancestors.
But this treatment of immigrants isn’t limited to the New World. People forced to move from one place to another in the “Old Country” faced the same problems, and not just in the dim past. Read Jerzy Kosinski’s Painted Bird.
And, when it comes to geographic “shitholes” it’s hard to beat the beautiful place where I live. Most of the people in the San Luis Valley live at or below the poverty line. As an example, just yesterday a mobile home from the 1970s was posted for sale on Facebook. The asking price was $5500. The place had been remodeled and had many upgrades, but it was still a mobile home from the 70s. The line of interested responses was long, even though the thing had to be moved.
“Does it have wheels?” asked one responder.
“Yes,” said the current owner.
“Will you be home tomorrow?”
You see, the “shitholes” are not defined specifically by the race of the people who live in them — though that’s been the general and mediazed reaction — but by whether the people there are losers or not. And poor people are losers.
I’m really tired from all this. I woke up very early this morning thinking social media is evil. I wouldn’t know about the “shithole” comment or the mobile home or people’s reactions to every stupid thing that happens in DC if I were not on social media. At 4 am I woke up realizing that I don’t need to know. I’m supposed to be an artist, a writer, but I’m not creating anything. It’s too easy (and I think quite natural) to be sucked into the vortex and I’m no good to anyone there. I can’t wave a magic wand and give us a decent president. I can’t suddenly transform a 1970s mobile home into a new one. Some days I can barely walk.