If You Try Sometimes, You Just Might Find

Friday, at lunch, we went out for hot chicken and contemplated Elvis. I came up with an idea for October that makes me happy. After work, I went over to the Scene‘s party and saw people I hadn’t seen in a million years. Plus people I see pretty frequently, so that was nice. I had conversations that made me feel better about my writing life in general–“Yes, I know that feeling”–and in particular–“Don’t worry. Just wait it out.” People said nice things about my writing and were happy to see me.

A couple of people asked me about when I was going to write a book about Nashville history, but I just don’t think they understand the scope of the problem–I would like to, but I am utterly unqualified to write the book I think deserves to be written. I don’t know nearly enough about Nashville’s Native American history (and by nearly enough, I mean, I basically know that Native Americans lived here) and to really understand Nashville’s history, you obviously need to understand why the landscape looked the way it did when white people arrived here, which means understanding how people were using the area before white people got here. And I would want to go back all the way. I don’t want any 1,000 year old farms escaping notice.

I understand next to nothing about the history of black Nashville, though at least I’d have some idea how to go about rectifying this to my satisfaction. Still, I’m not sure my satisfaction is good enough. I’m not sure I even know what I don’t know.

The history of Hispanic Nashville has never been written. No one has properly contextualized Nashville’s current Hispanic population with our long relationship with Latin America from our dalliances with becoming a Spanish territory through to us inflicting William Walker on Nicaragua and our pipe dream of creating a vast Southern U.S. white guy-lead slave empire throughout Latin America. A few critics have made the argument that, due to the South’s slave-owning and our dream of conquering Latin America, we’re tied to the Caribbean in ways we don’t usually acknowledge. But looking at how we might  understand Nashville as just a far north outpost of a certain strand of Latin American history would, I think, go a long way to undermining a lot of these “what are they doing here?” narratives.  We see ourselves as historically provincial in order to pretend to be surprised to find ourselves at this place.

But another thing that stops me in my tracks is how to account for Nashville’s gay history? This is a place my shortcomings in knowledge of Nashville’s black history bring me up short. I know that there were gay clubs in Nashville at least as far back as the 50s that were located in areas considered black neighborhoods (though I think at least some of the clubs may have been informally integrated) and Alain Locke spent a year at Fisk in the 20s, I think. But figuring out Nashville’s gay history, especially in a climate where it’s still risky for people to talk about it, let alone to say what their grandparents may have been up to, would be tricky.

So, all this is not to say that I haven’t thought about it. I’ve thought about it extensively. I just don’t think I have the skills to write the kind of book I’d want to write.

And then we went and saw the Dave Rawlings Machine at the Ryman and it was fantastic. I really love the Ryman and I don’t know if it’s just because my butt is getting bigger or because I’ve built up callouses, but they played from just after 8 to just before 11 and I didn’t want to amputate my ass by the end of it. I did end up thinking a lot about how it is that I feel like I know that, when they sing a song like “He Will Set Your Fields on Fire” they aren’t sincere about believing in a God who’s going to burn your life down if you don’t follow him, but when they sing “I Hear Them All” and it bleeds into “This Land is Your Land,” I feel like that’s real. Is it because we’re all singing along sincerely? Or is there something else that signals “this song we just like” vs. “this song we mean”?

Anyway, even the guy behind me going on to his date nonstop with his “insight” into the band couldn’t ruin it for me (though, lord, I did laugh. I mean, everyone in town knows someone who knows someone. Unless his date has only been in town ten minutes, why would she be impressed at that? It doesn’t make you special that you know someone who knows Dave Rawlings. It makes you a Nashville resident.). I was completely smitten. It was lovely.

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One thought on “If You Try Sometimes, You Just Might Find

  1. You’re maybe not at the right position to write the big history of everything right now, but it sounds like you’ve got a pretty clear research agenda, so that’s good. No book is perfect and no historian feels in command of everything at the start (or especially at the end) of the project. One has to get comfortable with the idea that the best we’re doing is offering some breadcrumbs for the next hikers into the dark woods and maybe a little light for the first part of their walk.

    On the other hand, maybe a less synthetic “sketches of old Nashville” short essay collection would be good as a means to getting you in the right places to do the research you want to do and helping you clarify what other questions you need to ask.

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