Friday, March 20, 2009

Java J's March 19

 I arrived at Java J's on time last night. Terry was already there; however, we found our space occupied by the Bristol Business and Professional Women's Org, too many to take on in a fist fight! :) Actually, they were very friendly and quickly admitted they had assumed they could have that space without checking first.

By 7:00 Leon had arrived. We bought coffee drinks and settled at a large Mission style round oak table a little ways away from where the BB&PWO had ordered food and spread out their papers all over the rectangular table that along with their chairs, took up our entire "telling space."

A guest, Carl Jenkins, a prospective member, joined us and we all decided to wait until just before our program was to begin and if we had an audience, we would ask the women to move. Well, it never came about. No audience, other than Carl, showed up so we carried on telling anecdotes and tales among ourselves at the round table built for four. 

Carl and Terry are both beginners, and since Leon and I are old-timers, we were able to answer a lot of their questions about creating and telling stories. Terry told a very entertaining story he had hoped to tell in front of an audience about Andrew Jackson's three duels. Jackson is a well-known figure and legend in this region due to having been a lawyer in Jonesborough for some time. Terry was open to comments and suggestions  from us as we gave him feedback.

Leon told an anecdote he had recently heard from his mother about a relative's childhood during the Civil War. Carl is a Civil War re-enactor and discussion moved into "Us (Confederacy) versus Them (Yankees)." Interestingly, two of us had been raised in Tennessee, and two of us moved to the area as adults after we had been raised in Indiana and New Hampshire respectively.

I expressed some feelings I had about being labeled an "outsider" and related some incidences of culture clash I had experienced during my 25 years of residency. (Terry has been here only one year.) Carl who is retiring soon as a high school history teacher talked about the reasons current Southerners won't let the Civil War die. He made good points about not wanting their cultural heritage taken away from them, and the history of "northerners" coming into the area to tell Southerners what they thought was a better way of doing things. It has now grown into a credo of "don't mess with the way I do things," or "mind your own business." 

When someone who is not a local speaks out about something they think is of national interest,
the local hears it as "I know how this should be done better than you do," and thinks his business, individuality, philosophy is being demeaned. The example I had given was my asking a neighbor to paint out some graffiti on his corner shop that I thought demeaned the whole tiny community we live in, and he refused saying if I wanted it repainted, I could do it myself. I saw myself as a concerned citizen interested in our community, and thought he was being obstinate and rude, while, Carl pointed out, my neighbor saw me as not minding my own business and telling him how things should be done. 

They said my approach was too straightforward and confrontational. I didn't think it was confrontational at all, although I will agree I was upfront with what I wanted. My colleagues last night suggested I should have pressured my neighbor through his church or a community group. Perhaps, but that is a piece of passive-aggresive-ness that I have tried to discard from my character traits.

Well, my discussion with the guys last night did help me to understand my neighbors better if I think about it. I did present some points, however, my friends eventually agreed with, such as "Southern" and "Yankee" qualities are not in the DNA but are ways of looking at the world. 

I'm amazed that as their Director I've lasted as long as I have with few disagreements. Perhaps because I've been ready to listen and to compromise.  My goal now is to mind my own business, and if, for the good of the group, I must mind their business, I find another way to approach and talk about the problem.

The problem BCS  now has is that the group is not supporting each other as well as they could. They don't attend  the monthly events if they are not scheduled to tell, and the feeling of a group community is not nourished until a Special Event when everyone greets everyone else like it's a family reunion. I'm hoping to help the camaraderie grow through the Story laboratories that are planned for this summer. We'll see. I'd love to put someone else in charge of the labs, preferably a Southerner who will know better how to motivate them. Hmmm, let me think about that a bit.

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