Wednesday, August 17, 2016

On the Road to Hattiesburg, Part II

The Book Club Meeting and My Thoughts...

I had to drive somewhat on the outskirts of Hattiesburg to find the book club meeting place, which was being held in the Joshua Generation MCC location. It was in a strip shopping center in another development, not sure whether it was a separate town or just a subdivision.

Anyway by two o'clock when the meeting was to begin, it was truly hot and humid, one of those August days that I'd heard about, effectively feeling like triple digit heat, so hot it was hard to draw a breath, and if it had been the kind of dry heat in the triple digits in Phoenix, Arizona, runways would be soft and lift would be nearly impossible, given how light the air would be, say if the temps were close to 120 degrees. But here, just outside of Hattiesburg, the air was hot and heavy with humidity, but at the same time the sun was searing on my skin.

There were cars in the strip shopping center parking lot, and when I saw the Joshua Center sign, I saw that cars were clustered around that entrance. The MCC was having some sort of mid-afternoon get together when I walked in, and I was shown where the book club meeting was going on.

I do have to say that I didn't know if the turnout for the meeting was going to be heavy (around thirty people) or light (no more than a half-dozen. It was the latter, but the people had come with written questions and places marked in their copy of Common Sons that they wanted to read aloud and comment on. I didn't want to be the focus of the meeting, however, I wanted the club members' focus on the book, to see what they thought. After all, Common Sons had been in print for twenty-seven years by this time, in it's fourth edition.

Now, this is where the religious sub-culture of the south and particularly the Mississippi religious sub-culture is important. The Common Threads in the Life series, of which Common Sons is the first book is also heavy in the religious theme, considering that one of the main characters is a preacher's son, with a fundamentalist, Southern-Baptist type preacher-father. So I figured that the religion aspect and how LGBT people in the South had to deal with their religions would be relevant in their reading of Common Sons.

This is the Governor of Mississippi
who eagerly signed the recent
unconstitutional "religious freedom"
bill, HB1523, which was promptly
shut down by a federal court.
I was right. The undertone was that religion played a big part in the lives of the readers, but it did in my life, as well. Southern Baptists on my mother's side and Church of Christ (non-affiliated) on my father's side. The discussion was lively, and one reader admitted that the main character was a kind of fantasy character, when I asked if anything bothered the group about the book. Yes, Joel Reece is an "ideal" of mine, a young man who early on has the strength of character to trust his own feelings over the strictures and expectations of the society in which he lives. So this one reader said that, although Joel represented a fantasy, he was still "realistic" in the way I had sketched him and that by the end of the book, the reader had overcome his feeling that Joel was just a fantasy character.

I can't speak for the South. I can't even speak for Mississippi, nor Hattiesburg, nor Columbus, but when I ask people, they tell me that the farther south you go in Mississippi, the more progressive and even liberal the towns and cities become. Columbus doesn't have a Unitarian Universalist church, but I bet Hattiesburg does.

This Sticker is used in
businesses in Mississippi
to indicate that the owners
do not discriminate against
LGBT people.
After all, it does have an MCC, a church organization founded by a gay man quite a few decades ago, now. And the setting of Common Sons was far enough back in time (mid-1960s) that the characters can be expected to be ignorant of what their feelings might represent and have to struggle with them on a much more basic level than young people might have to today. And this novel is relevant to southern readers in particular, precisely because the struggles that the preacher's son had to go through are still representative of what LGBT people have to go through in a predominantly religious culture in Mississippi. As I indicated when I initiated this blog, I'm only going to write about the positive aspects of my experiences in Mississippi. We all know the negatives, including that the Mississippi legislature and executive branch currently have a super-majority Republican base. However, the AG is a Democrat. He decided not to defend HB1523, but he didn't have to, anyway, since it was blocked from becoming law by a federal court.

Also, like the setting in a rural community in Common Sons many of the readers in Mississippi can relate to living in small towns and even coming from farms.

So, the upshot is that the club decided that it would take on the other books in the Common Threads series, and I think the next one will be discussed in December. I hope to attend. It will be a chance to get on the road in a Mississippi winter and see what Hattiesburg is like then.

I included this video, not to indicate that Mississippians themselves are stuck in the past but that the people, and not the politicians, are just fine, at least where I live and apparently south all the way to the coast. A long discussion, then, of how the Republican majority could have been voted in to begin with won't be part of my postcards...Like New Mexico, however, the pendulum swings between Democrats and Republicans in the legislature.

1 comment:

  1. I think I've got this fixed so that people can post comments...