When you have lived in the North your entire life there are preconceived notions of what you will experience in the South, the biggest being racism and conservative values. I am pleased to announce that my short visit to Little Rock showed me a different view of both. I traveled to Litle Rock, Arkansas as a guest presenter/author at the Little Rock Literary Festival. I went alone, as a snaffoo on the part of the organizers left me without my hotel or flight information until the prices per ticket were over $800. As much as my husband likes to travel with me, we both agreed that $800 could pay for 2 plane tickets to a place of our choosing, and a trip longer than 2 days.
As I flew over Arkansas, approaching my destination, I couldn’t help but notice how the city was surrounded by open fields, winding rivers and greenery…trees, parks, and nature were everywhere. The Arkansas River runs between Little Rock & North Little Rock; twin cities that together are about the size of Burlington, VT. In fact, there were definitely aspects of the city that reminded me of the Queen City. I was greeted in the airport by a sweet woman, holding a sign with my name on it. Her kindness and charm were delightful, and upon talking a few moments I found out that all the authors were picked up and dropped off by volunteers.; local folks, who like literacy and thought picking up a writer might be a fun time.
My literary duties began an hour after landing, with a meet & greet, dinner & drink thing, in which the public could come and meet authors. This was my first time as such an event, in which no-one really knew each other and we all had to interact by reading name tags. However, as you all know, I am quite social and did not lack abilities on the introduction level. The interesting part came when I told people what my book was about. Here is where I was reminded that I was not in my liberal, cozy corner of the universe. Most people were interested, but there was about a third of the people who responded by stepping back a step or two. Curiously enough, 1/2 of those who stepped back, thought of Mediums as bullshit, the other half that stepped back were doing so for religious reasons.
My response to their back-step depended on the reason they were doing so (the benefits of being Psychic). For those that thought of Mediums as hokie (this group was primarily other writers)…I made sure to let them know that I had a book contract before I had a book written. My way of saying…”Hey, I am the real deal”. The second group, those with religious leanings on the conservative level (mostly local), I made sure to tell them of my family background; being Irish Gypsy & Blackfoot Indian. With this information, the local conservatives visibly opened to the discussion.
Things that were difficult in the south…coffee & food allergies. I experienced the same thing while visiting Florida a month ago. Northerners are way ahead of the curb on the food allergy spectrum. In fact, the writer’s party/meet and greet had a lot of lovely food…all of it made with wheat and the majority of it also containing dairy. Seriously not even a veggie platter. But what the lacked in food options they made up for in free drinks. LOL, so needless to say, I drank my dinner that night (I am a serious light-weight so it wasn’t much). And coffee…well I believe Northerners are almost cultish about good coffee. We will (I admit doing this) walk block after block in search of a decent cup of coffee.
The real eye-opener came the following day when I met my moderator; the person who would be assisting my book-talk. I met Russell in the author’s room half an hour before my talk. He had read my book and was prepared to ask questions during the talk if needed. Upon being introduced to him, I discovered that he was a Chiropractor and a leading member of the local Unity Christian Church. He had stepped back from his work as a Chiropractor and was primarily working in ministry and counseling for his church community now. This fact made my thoughts do a side-step, a Christian Minister in the South had been chosen as the perfect match for my work? After a few moments of talking to him though I was delighted to hear that he practiced energy work, led meditation at his church, and that they believed that God consciousness resided within us all. Holy Shit! This was not the South I had prepared myself for.
When my book talk came about, I had a pretty full room & I was prepared to let it all hang out, as I always do. I read from the early part of my book, speaking of my experience with Spirit in childhood, of communicating with myself and Spirits though mirrors, and I ended my discussion with speaking about ‘the November Incident’; my walking the line of crazy, spiritual opening. It was generally well received, all of it…the only person who seemed put off by it was sitting in the back room with his wife, but he didn’t leave early, nor did he have anything rude to say.
I do not expect everyone to understand the path I walk or even believe in the experiences I have had, but respect and politeness are a lovely thing….and the South has that in accolades!
After my discussion, I was pretty much free to do whatever I wanted. I decided I needed to walk, and chose to walk the downtown area, check out shops and get some food. After eating, I was in a small art gallery/store connected to the library system when I ran into an older lady who had come to my discussion, and waited patiently in line to have me sign her book. Mary, a spritely 80-year-old was truly delightful. After talking to me for a few moments in the store, and my talking about how much I loved nature, she said “Alright then, let’s go walk the river walk”, and like that, I was off on a journey with a complete stranger.
As we walked along the river, Mary told me tales of her city, and of her life. She had lived in Little Rock for the majority of her life, and apparently, I was not the first stranger she had hooked up with before. She was a retired school teacher, with a keen mind, a strong intuition and a great deal of kindness. When I walked her back to the library she invited me to come stay with her the next time I came to Arkansas.
On my voyage along the river, I was again delighted to see that my view of racism was also not completely true. Now I am not saying that there is no racism in Little Rock, what I am saying is I was surprised by the number of mixed race couples I saw. In fact, there were almost as many couples of mixed race or same sex as there were heterosexual couples of the same race. I found myself thinking on this, and questioning if this was the result of the ‘Little Rock 9’ ‘https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/central-high-school-integration. The Little Rock 9 in short, refers to 9 black students who enrolled in a formerly all-white high school in Little Rock in 1957. There enrollment was due in part to the Supreme Court ruling school segregation illegal in 1954. It is a tremendous story of bravery that you really should take the time to read (see link above).
After my time with Mary, I attended a panel discussion featuring cartoonist who wrote about important political and ethical issues. I was there primarily to see Trina Robbins; a prolific feminist writer, who I had met at the Authors dinner party the night before. I had found a natural bond with Trina (also a spitefully, delightful senior) when we realized we were both carrying Wonder Woman purses. (Trina was the first woman to draw a Wonder Woman comic). The other panalist were also waving their liberal flags…Erin Nations, a transgender man who bravely writes the comic series Gumballs, which speaks on transgender issues, and MK Czerwiec a nurse, who writes comics for the Journal of the American Medical Association. Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371 is about her time spent working with HIV patients in the 90’s. Way to go Little Rock, for bringing in writers (and cartoonist) who are rocking the real word!
After listening to the panelist I headed out to the river walk again, this time to do some work. I made my way down to the Clinton Presidential Park Wetlands, where I did a bit of earth magic. Singing/toning to the wildlife and water itself. If your interested in seeing what I did, go check out my Facebook Live video on my page Sali Crow. I delighted in seeing the abundance of turtles in the water (I saw at least 50), and the biggest bat-house I have ever seen. I continued down the river, stopping periodically to sing to the Earth and place crystals here and there (I placed some in other metropolitan areas as well).
All in all, my trip south was a refreshing view of Americans. Almost all of the local Arkansasians said the same thing “There is a strong current that runs below the surface of most Arkansasians”. They are in general, or at least the folks I met, more open-minded than I ever imagined, and genuinely interested in meeting people. The highlights I will keep securely in my mind are those of meeting Russel, and his open-hearted soul, and of Mary taking me on a journey without even blinking an eye. Thanks for shedding some southern charm on this Northern girl.