The Carpet Bagger's Journal — moving from NYC to Mississippi

December 20, 2009

Crossing the line

The Mason-Dixon Line is the line, historically, between two ways of American life, between personhood and non-personhood.  For slaves, to cross this line from South to North was the difference between becoming a man or a fraction of one.  How then is it that I in crossing in the other direction find myself more complete?

The place of my transgression

I crossed the line just a little bit South of Gettysburg this week, while listening to the song, “Where I Come From” by Alan Jackson on my radio:

“…Where I come from,

it’s corn bread and chicken.

Where I come from,

a lot of front porch sittin’…”

Oddly enough, this Brooklyn girl is now from the land of corn bread and chicken — not vodka martinis and tapas.

I’m at home, a property owner for the first time in my life, and I am turning a house in a small town, as best I can, into a Monticello-like island of Jeffersonian culture, but more about that later.

Crossing the line between personhood and non-personhood in the reverse direction was astonishingly liberating.  I thought of Caesar and his Rubicon and Washington and his Potomac.  The line, it seems, is the unpatrolled border between two nations, one where I am an infiltrator of another way of life, here to do battle for truth as I understand it but also to accept a hometown welcome, too.

I’m coming home to where my hostess skills and my prayer life are a sort of gold standard.  Eccentricity combined with a certain kind of sociability in the South is no sin.  I am hopeful I will adapt, too, not just cause an adaptation.

The hills turned greener as I entered the land beneath the line, and in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, it seemed that Fall had barely taken hold, but the ruggedness of the terrain was due to a permanent state of non-ambitious relaxation, the opposite of skyscrapers preening their necks.

An old farmhouse in the Smoky Mountains

I have crossed into a new way of living, to be sure.  The time zone is different.  The seasons are different.  People want to set a spell, share a word with me, and I am going to discover.

I am marrying into a new culture, even as I marry into my own.  You see, I have lived my adult life almost entirely on an island off the coast of my own country, and this, well, at one time, this was not my own country — it had left my country behind and only returned after being utterly brought to its weatherbeaten timbers and its empty stretches of uncultivated wilderness.

For years, I have claimed to write about the American experience, and so I have, fictionally.  I see it is time for some creative non-fiction in a prosaic land where, crossing a line into a sort of no-return denim-friendliness, I have been set free into a kind of a personhood devoid of the pretensions of my previous home.

Where I come from, Alan Jackson tells me at the crossroads where the blues player met the devil, where Oedipus met his father, where slave met free, where I am now, this is not a land like any other I have known before.

May God have mercy on me as I step into the unknown and yet uncannily familiar mud of my new back yard.


  1. Congratulations on your move. In the mercy department, it seems like you escaped some nasty cold weather by heading south.

    BTW, I would have guessed that the Southern equivalent of vodka martinis would be mint juleps.

    Comment by Alan — December 20, 2009 @ 8:40 am | Reply

  2. Hi, Anne. Congratulations on your new life. In a Eastern joke, after you married, you are a slave of your marriage. Good luck!

    From a 20years slave.

    Comment by Wu Tang — December 26, 2009 @ 5:47 pm | Reply

  3. Holy Toledo, so glad I clkiecd on this site first!

    Comment by Arry — June 22, 2011 @ 6:59 pm | Reply

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