It is not easy to look back at how I used to think at any time in the life, even a week ago. The way I think now is related to how I thought twenty years ago, but not the same. To go all the way back to childhood in church hearing the preacher excited about hell and damnation and you-better-not and atheism is evil, I believed it. I remember at age nineteen being talked to by a serious Southern California John Bircher, a convicted missionary. I thought he made sense, while having no idea what he was talking about. This was in Wichita, home of the Koch Bros. In that time, around 1960, the name meant rich people, the kind that impress other rich people, lived in the most expensive house in the most expensive part of the city, hotdogs in the rich people's country club. I worked with the groundskeepers at their country club the last summer of high school, mowing, weeding and watering greens. Probably saw them several times and didn't know it, didn't care, still don't. Though, then, still in my time of indoctrination into a world I could not live in, I would have been impressed.
I did not know what I wanted, only knew a great long list of what I did not want. The only motivation for self was education and healing, needed both desperately, and to live an authentic life, authentic by my own standard. I never intended to use my education for job training or use the transcript for credentials. I didn't care about making a C in Milton or a WF in Chemistry. I never had a job that required a degree. I've worked with chainsaws, shovels, axes, hammers, power tools, paintbrushes, ladders. Working an axe is fun and a fine skill. Old man Tom Pruitt could lay an axe down in the very line he made the first swing. I could do it sometimes, but his skill took a lifetime of practice. I wanted to live at the bottom of the working class. My motivation was inability to live a fake life of pretend appearance and kissing ass up the status ladder. This is why I'm unable to run my art through a gallery. Sucking up to the rich at openings and Christmas parties is something I'm unable to do, the same as a duck is unable to meow. Much of living what I believe involves staying out of what I don't want to do.
Recalling a woman in the coffee shop a year or more ago. As she was leaving, she stopped to speak with a big smile, interrupting, of course, "TJ, it would be to your benefit to pay more attention to the new people moving here." She strutted off, wiggling her ass out the door like she'd done something big. My impulse was to call to her, "How do you know? What benefit?" Automatic editor jumped in like a referee and said, If you don't want it started, don't start it. Back to conversation with friend who was, coincidentally, once new here. Inside, I laughed, like how did she know? She didn't even know me. I only slightly knew her name, had to remind self when she started talking. She sure as hell did not know the people I'd be turning my back to for the opportunity to meet more commercials incarnate like her. I'd be turning my back to my people for the thrill of knowing her people. They need to, and will, continue as her people. If I were to waste my time with the people of her choice for me, I'd be telling Justin, Crystal and Melvin about them on Sunday afternoons watching the race, and we would laugh. Thirty years ago, I'd have thought there might be something to what she said. By now, whatever the benefit might be, I know from a lifetime of experience, anything it could be, I don't want it. It's somebody else's idea of benefit, not mine.
tommy jarrell and fred cockerham
I dove into the world of the hillbilly, because I like the human beings they are. I like living among the people of the mountains. I appreciate them as friends. In hillbilly friendships, watching your back is part of it. A fickle hillbilly is somebody who has no friends, no backup. Backup is important in a rural community. Backup is friends who watch your back. Like somebody wants to pull some shit on you, if he knows you, he knows your backup. He will decide whether he wants to face your backup before he says or does something stupid. Like when somebody starts talking about one of my friends, I'll step in and say, "Before you go too far, I need to tell you, this is my friend." It means, I'm not mad yet, but keep it up and a landmine might go off right there where you're standing. The hillbilly code is a rough code, and it's hard. It comes from several generations of a hard life, working all the time for very little return, poverty, a culture of poverty. Living in poverty, pretense and shallow thinking have no place on the list of options. The hillbilly code evolved from generations of working in solitude on one's own farm, hunting in solitude, plenty of time to think, so much time it leads to deep thinking and clear mind. Old farmers and their women have a very well-educated intelligence from studying the Bible deeply, their knowledge only known amongst themselves. No one outside their world has a clue about them. They're mostly silent and out of sight, philosophers with little experience talking. It would take a force more powerful than a stranger's notion of a benefit to pull me away from these people.