So we are making Nashville our capital-H Home. That little thought I had in mind for years, the idea to live in Nashville, and actually followed through on last Christmas has turned into one of my better decisions. We've made a great group of friends in addition to people I knew from past touring and new work friends I've already spent huge amounts of time with on the road. We bought a house. We're getting to know our neighbors. I've found a place to volunteer. I wouldn't have predicted this move would make THIS much sense this quickly.
When asked why I've fallen so hard for Nashville, I mention people's friendliness, the community involvement, the music and creativity, the affordability, and the relative proximity to family in Cincinnati. I wasn't sure about all of these qualities before moving here because if you don't know where you're going and are driving around Nashville, the city can come off as lackluster. The vacant lots and barbed wire don't always give off indications that when you turn right or left, or just look closely, there are charming districts of independent businesses, bars, coffeeshops and creative spaces. The suburbs and country areas may be different, but it seems that city neighborhoods are largely mixed income so within the same blocks you may have a drug house, a working low-income family, a trendy modern condo, and a historic cottage. The pace of new building is fast and residential and commercial structures are springing up regularly. There is definitely a feeling of change.
Some of these qualities I've admired in other cities but other aspects are brand new to me. Nashville is politically blue. It has a strong progressive bent, queer- and eco- friendly, especially in East Nashville where we are, but the state of Tennessee does not. Tennessee is more Christian right conservative than this Northern gal is used to. It's a proud, God-fearing culture and they will be damned if you try to tell them what they can and cannot do with their guns. Their many, many guns.
Sweet Jesus, I've never heard more gun talk than I have in the past year. Or seen so many signs on bar doors asking you to leave your firearms outside, since many people carry concealed weapons. Nor have I ever met as many people who have been held up at gunpoint than I have in Nashville. The little buggers are EVERYWHERE. People buy them online for home protection. People buy them illegally, unsure of whether they are stolen or not, to add to their collection. I'm sure people are stockpiling to fight our government who they are convinced will turn against us a la Hitler and Stalin, just as you hear on Fox News.
This is all foreign to me as I didn't grow up with guns but I did marry someone who knows how to handle a rifle and who won a turkey shoot in elementary school, beating out many grown men. My grandpa Roncker was a gun-carrying Cincinnati Police Captain. My father-in-law was a Green Beret Airborne Ranger, Customs Officer, and firearms instructor and is the best shot I know but I still haven't gone all warm and fuzzy with guns, besides the joke I had with Bova where I promised him that if I ever get a gun it will be a Glock with pink accents and the inscription on the side: Bless Her Heart.
Our new neighborhood, Cleveland Park, is rather crime-friendly but I'm still choosing to go with an alarm system, a dog, and padlocks on the privacy fence over keeping a gun in our house. Oh, and the sword Matthew keeps under the bed. The closest I've gotten is that guns in general now seem kind of normal and not shocking as they would have, say, when I were living in Seattle. Speaking of Seattle, when I was there I had the feeling that I was living in a bubble, a utopia of like-minded, agreeable people where it was just so dang pleasant that it bugged me. I wanted more grit and disagreement; I imagined that would feel more real. And, now I've got it.
I believe in God. I don't claim to know the details but I do think there is more. I grew up going to public schools during the day, Catholic Mass on Sunday, and CCD religious instruction on Tuesday nights. My family's liberal Jesuit church and its high school youth group had some affect on me but in my earlier years I promptly forgot everything poor Father Nastold tried to teach me all those many Tuesdays that I doodled and smirked; apparently I am a natural born skeptic. Since the Bible went in one ear and out the other, I drew my moral lessons from family, the aforementioned church youth group - that welcomed teens of all faiths or of none, not just Catholics or Christians - and scores of excellent teachers.
The Christian message that stuck with me was that Jesus was a good man to emulate: compassionate, in service to others, kind, courageous, accepting of people who are different. I didn't, and don't, put any great importance on the idea that what I do in this life will affect what happens to me when I die. I'm not worried about heaven or hell. I just do my best to be a good person while I'm here and hope to be judged by my actions, not by my faith or gender or voting record. I think religion, if it is to be used, should be used for people, not against them.
Most of my new friends are leftist and a few remind me of some of my favorite people I know elsewhere: Justin = Nashville Dennis, Oscar = Nashville Fabian, Ryan = Nashville Bova. I've also gotten close to a number of people here who believe that homosexuality is a sin, that Mitt Romney had the right solutions for America, and that any gun control is a freedom issue (always with the FREEDOM). And I'm not even getting into health care or taxes. I think homosexuality is perfectly natural, if not as common as heterosexuality, am Obama-voting, and I think there should be a compliance of some standard that is enforced before regular, non-military, people can own guns. I'm not against guns or against the Constitution, I'm for considering public safety.
My friends and I who are politically and religiously different have more in common than we have apart but oh man, the differences are biggies. I, however, choose to see their lives from a broad perspective, not focusing on guns and gays, and I think they're good people. I believe they think the same of me. We love each other, enjoy being together, and miss each other when we're not. So how does one reconcile those things that could be taken as personal, perhaps offensive, affronts? Or do we just concentrate on our similarities and accept our differences with mutual respect?
Personal details I've shared about myself with some of them: that one of my bridesmaids was a gay man who walked down the aisle with another guy or that I'm not Republican (WHAT?!) have elicited laughs, dropped jaws, or resigned head shakes. But not all details are easy for me to delve into. I'm sensitive when it's about women and when I see vaguely misogynistic-hahahaha Facebook posts from anyone, even if we aren't close, even if we're just acquaintances, I have to remind myself to breathe.
East Nashville has more in common with Portland, OR or Austin, TX than greater Tennessee where a Senator from Knoxville is proposing legislation that would require schools to inform parents if a child is engaging in homosexual activity (what exactly "activity" entails is unclear). Where in talking about education, someone tells me how mad he was when his child came home from school and told her daddy she learned about evolution. Apparently I've been more influenced than I even realized by the bubbles I've lived in because I honestly thought creationism was more on the out than that.
I'm still learning how to deal: how to gauge when a reaction or response is just enough or too much or not enough at all. I still shy away from certain conversations and am not necessarily proud of that. The point, however, is that I'm learning as much or more than if I were always surrounded by people exactly like myself. And if I'm ever surprised or taken aback by what I hear, I have to examine myself and pinpoint what I do or don't believe. Whether or not my viewpoints ever change, I gain something in my understanding of the issues, people's different interpretations of them, and of how our fractured country may be tolerant.