I have just figured it out: for all women raised by southern women-Black, White, Native- it doesn’t matter- there’s a common denominator, a way of dealing and not dealing with stress that seems to be passed on from generation to generation. The thread of a very particular insanity flows through us although I’m unsure as to whether or not it’s in the blood, the bone, or the brain.
We seem all, in some way that’s not always obvious, to be playing to a “theme.” Yes, any good shrink will tell you that all humans are playing out certain archetypes and that the archetype has a story or stories and that in the course of our lives, we might play out several such stories, but there’s generally an overriding “type”that fits. Yet the southern version is a bit different. It’s more immediate and both less and more mysterious than the eternal struggle between the ego and the id. We write books and plays, choreograph and perform dances, skits, and dramas, on and off the stage. We sing, we decorate, we fashion our lives to support the theme we’ve been given and we pay homage, more consciously than most, to ancestors we may or may not venerate.
We “daughters of the dust” know better, and yet we still believe. That’s the essential difference and I cannot account for it other than to say that we’re taught by mothers-mouth to ear- who themselves excelled to varying degrees, in creatively draping the windows to suit the motifs of their own lives. We are the best of good girls and we bring being bad to high art. We seem more often than not, to know who our audience is (the family, of course) and we seem to accept the boundaries on some level even when we dance on stages ten thousand miles away. We will dazzle and thrill you, charm the whiskers off a cat, go all “Bette Davis ” on you if need be, invoke the wrath in a glance, and we do all that we do wrapped in a cloak not of invincibility, but of right(eous)ness. We may be crippled and crazy and we may have made a complete mess of our lives and the lives of those around us, but in our hearts, we know that we do know what’s right and the proper order of things, and that if we can only “get ourselves straight/harness our resources/muster our strengths/ rest awhile/gather our wits/regroup/have a lie down/ a cup of tea-coffee-pick-me-up or just a finger of Jim Beam or a drop of whiskey or rye or a glass of sherry, nice ripe wine, grandmother’s ‘medicine’, a simple ‘cokecola’, or ‘that nice chamomile/peppermint/sassafras tea’, then We-the true women among women- can still somehow make it all work out!
I no longer care to delude myself that this is not true. It’s what we believe and it was passed onto us in some mysterious way, from our adored and benighted mothers, no matter what our relationship to them might be. There is great humor in this, often intended, frequently unamusing, and certainly not jokey. I’m not sure how this works and why it’s different than the relationship that all other daughters have with their own crazy mothers, I just know that it is, and maybe that’s the only real point. My upbringing tells me so it must be true. Hah.