Saturday, January 3, 2015

Strange Fish in Alien Ponds

I have been reading The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd's wonderful book about slavery and the Grimke sisters.  It's been on my list since seeing this interview with her in O magazine a year ago.

It is even more wonderful than I thought it would be.  Kidd has done a great job of capturing the pre-Civil War time period without weighing us down with too many details so that she can justify all that research.  She does a great job of showing us how perilous it was to be a woman then, and even more precarious to be a black woman.  It reminds me of Toni Morrison's A Mercy in that way.

I'm also intrigued by her ability to explore women's creative lives under constrained circumstances--the fabric artist angle captivated me.  And the yearning for an intellectual life that was constantly out of reach--just heartbreaking.  And Kidd explores the different expressions of faith too--for more on antebellum Christianity in the book, see this post on my theology blog.

It's interesting to read this book that's set in antebellum Charleston at the same time I've been reading end-of-the-year articles like this one about Charleston as the one of the foodie capitals of the nation.  I lived in the Charleston area from 1992-1998, and while there were good restaurants and the beginnings of some interesting directions in food, it was still very nascent.

I read this book, and I feel some regret about not exploring the area more, although we did a fairly thorough job.  I felt that the aura of slavery hanging over some of the areas that we explored; for example, I never really enjoyed the slave's market, which had been turned into a flea market/garage sale kind of place with sea grass baskets for purchase when we were there.  It just felt too tainted, while similarly unaware of the past.  I felt similarly about the gorgeous plantations; I knew about the human slavery that it took to create these places.

I feel much more at ease in places like Mepkin Abbey nearby, places which pay tribute to the people who came before, sometimes unwillingly, who made the current use of the land possible.

Reading the book also reminds me of my years at Trident Tech, and I'm feeling some similarity to my current situation.  A few weeks ago, at graduation, I thought about how few of us have Ph.D.s at my current school--2 to be specific, me and a sociologist.  We have a few people with Ed.Ds, but fewer than we once had.  When I was at Trident Tech, I was one of 3-6 people (depending on the year) with a Ph.D.

I am feeling like a strange fish in an alien pond (as opposed to a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond)--but that's not an unusual feeling for me.  I am lucky to have some fellow fish.  I am lucky to have other fish who may see me as strange, but not unlikeable.

I am also lucky to have books like Sue Monk Kidd's--books that remind me of how lucky I am. No matter how much I feel like a strange fish in an alien pond, it's nothing compared to what previous generations experienced.

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