When I initially started writing yesterday’s post, it was double the length of the published version now. I had you, my dear reader, in mind when I decided to make two posts out of my takeaways from the “How States Got Their Shapes” series. You’re welcome. Yesterday I wrote of borders and frontiers, so please consider that the Part I to this post, which would be Part II. We had our discussion about being visionaries, thinking ahead, and how borders can divide or unite people. Part of forming an identity is figuring out where your own borders and edges are, and whether you’re in the mainstream or the fray. But there’s more to it, which leads to Part II.
“Pennsatucky” in Orange is the New Black is truly a hilarious character. She is the “Jesus freak” in the prison, and at one point even believes she has been chosen by God above to heal those on earth. She pretty much hits every hillbilly stereotype, and bring Jesus into every argument.
Funnily enough though, I had no idea that West Virginia was actually almost named something very close to her nickname on the show. There was some conflict over splitting Virginia westward and eventually the land was split into two states, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Originally the area was annexed to the union as the Transylvania purchase, and they wanted to keep the “Sylvania”, yet somehow they also considered Pennsyltucky as the name for the new state. Even the notion of hillbillies, and the stereotypes of them are derived from a family feud between two families over the border, the McCoys (Kentucky) and the Hatfields (West Virginia). The borders were approved by the government when they each applied to be states, driven by the growth of railroads and western movement. Borders changed because America was changing. And here I was thinking nicknames like Nebrahoma and Pennsatucky were just generic hillbilly insults for people from the flyover states… at one point people thought they would be the names of great states. Go figure.
Here’s something else I learned from that TV show: there are unmarked planes with a generic red stripe that go by the name “Janet” in flight records. The Janet flights run through Las Vegas airport each day, and usually carry military officials. The footage in the show referred to one particular plane which was probably returning to Las Vegas airport from a flight to Area 51. Whoa. I’d heard about the secret life of the Denver airport and the massive underground government base beneath the runways, but I’d never heard of Janets before. I’ll have to keep an eye out for that next I find myself in Vegas.
And did you know the US is comprised of 3 power grids: the East, the West, and Texas? Having their own power grid makes them self-sustaining and impervious to federal regulations over fuel/energy/ gas, causing prices in the area to be lower than the rest of the nation. I always knew the Bush family was heavily invested in oil interests, and somehow indirectly the state benefitted from his ties and was somehow excused from rising gas prices during Bush’s terms as President. I have colleagues in Texas who specialize in all things accounting related to oil and gas in that area. Further, because of its independence when it comes to utilizing its own energy resources, Texas is actually the current state that is most likely to secede from the Union, if we were to find ourselves with another civil war on our hands. On a side note, if California seceded, it would be the world’s 8th largest economy, according to some person somewhere with some numbers and data and research.
Each region in America flourished based on how it identified, harnessed, and commercialized the natural resources of the various regions. There was a fundamental characteristic early Americans had in common: there was a desire to be essential – to feel needed. Don’t we all want that?
Think about it: Beaver skins and furs flourished in Wisconsin, logging and paper products grew up in Maine. Pennsylvania oil drove a whole industrial revolution towards farming and cultivating resources in the flyover states. North Carolina remains the center for gold and finance it once was, housing Bank of America headquarters, and other major banking institutions have a presence there now as well. There’s Virginia tobacco, Mississippi cotton, Michigan cars (and now we can see the carcass of the industry that died there too in Detroit, Flint, and other depressed areas.) Silver was found in Nevada, and so on. Communities rose up with common interests, goals, ways of making money, and providing an essential service or product.
I have that desire to be essential too. In previous blog posts, I’ve pontificated over what my purpose in life is, where my passion might be, and the like. I don’t quite yet know what my “natural resource” is I have to share and on which to capitalize. I know I need to utilize my creativity, make something, do something, to create that distinct identity.
I’m going to divert on a tangent here about identity. Discovering your identity is a process all of us go through, whether we know it or not. Here’s a most relevant example: as a lesbian, I engage in a lot of pro-LGBT initiatives in the workplace. In Australia, I was first exposed to a bit of research by Vivian Cass. She developed an Identity Model that frames coming out in 6 distinct stages. Not every individual experiences every single stage, and the stages can be experienced in very different ways. Sometimes you can skip a phase or not experience one of them before jumping to another, so there is no order to this. The 6 stages are:
1) Identity Confusion – This is where someone recognizes that his or her identity doesn’t reconcile with societal and cultural norms, or conventional beliefs about heterosexuality. The key words here are “Am I gay?” It’s interesting to note here that research provided correlating data about the rates of self-rejection in this stage. The research also connected an individual’s same-sex attraction with overcompensating in a rejecting attitude to mask a true gay identity to avoid being perceived as gay. In simpler words, research actually shows that increased homophobic behavior comes from some people who never went past this stage, and that homophobia is masking repressed homosexual desires.
2) Identity Comparison – With this stage, there is an acceptance of your new identity as gay, but there can be struggles with how to handle this new identity. People have to manage the loss of heterosexual privilege and possible discrimination or oppression if they come out. The key words for this stage are “I’m gay; what does that mean?” This is where we realize there isa conflict because you’re still the same person, and as you contemplate sharing your true identity, you worry about what people will think and if this identity would cause others to alienate you or treat you differently. Many people in this stage are in the closet, which can lead to depression, anxiety, and other self-destructive behaviors. In the workplace, many people here find their performance at work suffers as they are understandably directing their energy to self-protection and managing situations that arise where their identity might be compromised.
3) Identity Tolerance – This is where one begins looking around for signals of whether they will experience acceptance or rejection of their newfound identity. They are sensitive to visual cues, like maybe a rainbow pin in a boss’s office flagging them as an ally, or this person may begin to visit websites to learn about LGBT culture. They begin to notice there are other gay people around them, and begin searching for people like them, coming out of that isolation of the previous stage. They may go to gay bars, rent movies to see what gay people are like in movies or TV shows, or find an LGBT alliance in the community. This stage provides the groundwork for building a support network. The key words for this phase are “Are there others?”
4) Identity Acceptance – This stage is where someone might begin to openly identify or come out as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. They come out to close friends and family, maybe even at work to colleagues with whom they work closely. There is not embarrassment, but you certainly can’t push these people out of the closet, as they very much want to come out on their own terms. It is here that you accept and own who you are and start asking, “Where is my support network?”
5) Identity Pride – Here, people develop a much stronger LGBT identity. These individuals have gone through the struggles, come out, and may even feel a responsibility to serving as role model for others on their journey of self-identification, or take on an activist approach at work. There is a hardening, and protective shell that creates a deflective barrier, for the nicknames and insults to just roll right off. These people may have a distinct “screw you if you don’t like who I am” attitude, because they have fought to own who they are. The key words for this phase are “Whom do I tell?” It is here people decide how out and visible they want to be – extroverts do well here, sharing insights, standing up and being counted. Introverts may not engage in this stage as fully because even if you weren’t gay, you wouldn’t share much of yourself with others.
6) Identity Synthesis – This is the “so-what” stage. This is where being gay is a part of your identity, but it’s not the primary defining quality. Some find that advocacy is just plain tiring, or someone may have moved past that activist stage, and they move out to suburbs to live quietly with a partner and raise kids. This a more “mature” phase in my opinion, because you’re gay, that’s great, now what? What else are you? A writer? A singer? An accountant? Individuals in this stage may still very much need their support network, and may still have pride, but they are just simply not as active in the community.
So then if we take these stages of identity and apply them to the way early Americans built their own regional identities, it yields some pretty interesting results. One way Americans all over the 50 states and surrounding territories identify themselves is simply by speaking.
Southern accents were a direct result of forming bonds and camaraderie with other Confederates, at a time when sometimes the only bond was that you hated the union/northerners. The accent helped people develop an identity totally different from the people in the north. Yall – no apostrophe. In the north east, especially in my New Yorker family, it’s “Yous and you guys”. Some say “Y’uns”which apparently translates to you ones or youngins.
There are two accents I didn’t know had names, beyond gibberish. Ever heard someone from the deep south say their words so quickly and with a cajun twang, that it sounds like there are no real words in what they’re saying? Mumbo jumbo? Those are dialects from Ocrocoke Island, and there’s also the dialect of Gullah. These languages developed on an island, in the south, and in general, there are massive dialect differences when a language develops on an island, in isolation, filling necessary conversation gaps with new sounds and words and meanings.
After living in Australia, I can now tell the difference between British, South African, Australian and New Zealand accents. Subtle nuances in vowel pronunciation and length of holding cause small differences to the seasoned ear. Australians can do great impressions of Americans, but when I do an impression of an Australian, I come out sounding cockney and British.
Accents are generally regional; they are local and thus the locals must be trustworthy. Accents convey friendliness, honesty, inspire pride, belonging, and trust. Does Obama have a noticable accent? Not really. But George Bush? Did you ever notice when he was in Texas, he spoke with a twang, but in DC, he monitored himself and his accent melted away in the company of those in the capital who didn’t bring out his Texas twang? Politicians can turn it on and turn it off – have you heard how George Bush says “Priorities”? My ex was from the south and always said these words in the funniest ways: Lawyers. Um-brella. Thanksgiving.
Accents ebb and flow too; some are in full retreat. Speaking in accents demonstrates one’s ability to adopt a local identity. Accents are a small part of who you are.
All over the nation, we have different words for the same thing: Soda, pop, coke, soft drinks, tonic, seltzer. It’s no coincidence that when asked what kind of Coke you’d like in Atlanta, you could answer, “Sprite,” and it would make total sense to the locals. The Coca Cola Company was founded in Atlanta. I even visited the coke museum there. I read a book a few years ago called A History of the World in Six Glasses, and it talked about how coffee, tea, beer, spirits, wine, and ultimately water, shape the world as we know it. Interesting history, when one puts it that way. And Nevada – apparently the real pronunciation is Nev-Add-uh. Not Nev-odd-uh. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.
California is fertile breeding ground for new words added to the English language. Northern Californians use the word “hella” as in, “That skateboard jump was hella cool!” My new personal favorite words are the perfect response to, “How are you?” on a bad day: sangry (sad + angry) and terrihurtsible. Brilliant.
I always thought Californians didn’t really have an accent, thus I don’t have one. I can pop out a valley girl or surfer though, if need be. It just comes naturally. California is part of the population where there is no real discernable dialect. But linguists think the way Californians say things is part of the local dialect – in a laid back manner, not too quickly, not pushing or forcing words into you. Californians get “totally” “stoked”; even the surfer phrase “far out” came from California, which is ironic because I heard more Australians use that in 3 years than I had my whole life before Australia. Californians penned words like unfriend (via the Facebook generation), and the word bromance, which is a recent favorite. Californians are dubbed as lazy because they give up halfway through a word… legitimate becomes legit, monosyllabic becomes mono.
This makes Californians actually have a lot in common with Aussies who will give a nickname to anyone and everyone. My initiation into Australian culture was coming up with my nickname – which wasn’t exactly easy. They shortened everything: afternoon (arvo), breakfast (brekkie), and nicknames like Coxy, Hinchy, Foxy, Gunners, Chongers (even though that widely accepted nickname for that person made me shudder at the weight of the racism associated with it, so I just usually used her real name).
I’m taking credit for my own word until someone else wants to fight me for it. I like to think I came up with “prolly”; it’s my favorite, and short for probably. As in I’ll prolly go to the gym today.
Language has innovated in more ways you can imagine: adding the adding “@” sign on a level of Morse code and binary code came about from the age of email addresses. Never before has that symbol even shown up on our radar until it was used in email addresses. It was sloppy shorthand for the word “at”, that no one really used because two letters is just about the same amount of effort. @ best.
Every innovation puts new words into circulation – the telephone, email, cell phones, texting, abbreviations, like OMG BTW LOL IMHO LGBT etc. Something I noticed only after living abroad too, is that there is an American accent adopted by the media. Every single film that comes out of Hollywood, every Simpsons episode, has that accent to me like a Californian. Nondescript. You don’t notice it the accent, and that’s the whole idea. The lack-of-accent is easy to understand without local dialects. Local Australian commercials were always thick with Australian accents. In the US, every local car salesman commercial uses a heavy local accent, to get the audience, people in that area with similar accents, to buy cars from them. That’s why I think Australians do a great job at imitating the American accent – they’ve been exposed to it via the media. Compare that to the commercials I would hear for Outback Steakhouse once I came back to America. That’s the WORST fake Australian accent by an American I’ve ever heard, including my own feeble attempts, and it’s overlaid with a thick media accent of bland newspaper, if you will.
Lately, my own personal dreamscape has been changing. I’ve had a few dreams where I’ve left packing to move my stuff from Australia back to the US (yes I still have those dreams), because it doesn’t seem like I have much. Then I get to packing and it’s much more than I anticipated, everything gets disorganized quickly and I don’t successfully move. Part of me knows that my subconscious is preparing for another change.
I had one dream recently where I knew myself to be in Reykjavik, Iceland, in an underground laboratory. I was put through a series of trials of self-identification. In early trials, I came out far ahead of other people, but there was no better or worse, there just was a relief in finding something out about myself. In one of the trials, my “start class” of February 2015 (given the number 02-2015) had to reach into a basket filled with various eggs – of various sizes, shapes, weights, colors. The egg I pulled out was rubber and purple, and much smaller than the others. Mine had some weight, and could bounce. It was resilient, durable, compact and easy to carry. I could compare my egg to the eggs others chose – weightless and fragile papier-mâché eggs, eggs made of dense stone like granite – but there was no point. That egg was my identity – I chose it, and I loved it for what it was. I finally knew who I was.
Obviously in real life, my identity is not a small purple rubber egg. It was just good to know who I was, finally. That dream mirrored my real life. I have an identity now that I love because it is me. I have added something huge to that identity by living in Australia for 3 years, and that’s what makes me purple and rubbery and travel size. I didn’t pick up the Aussie accent, but there are moments at work when people call me out for sounding Australian, because while I don’t have an accent, I picked up another verbal cue that “ain’t from around here.” The intonation in my voice goes up as I reach the end of a sentence, so it sounds like I’m asking a question.
So out of arbitrary borders, commonalities with others in the frontier, regional language dialects, and even sexual orientation and gender identity, we are constantly forming and displaying who we are. So much goes into it. But at the end of the day, the earth is one big melting pot, or salad, depending on how you like to look at it. The sum of the masses lead to broad sweeping generalizations. So while there may feel like tons of futility in determining who you are and where your boundaries are, because you won’t change the landscape of the blanket we are weaving, you, as a single solitary thread, of whatever color and whatever fiber, are important. You can’t get lost and feel small, when there is so much good stuff about you. Right at this moment, and as you change and grow and evolve, there will be more good stuff about you.
Self-identification is a lifelong process. You can be anything you want to be, no matter where or what you come from. My maternal grandfather was a garbage man, and my paternal grandmother worked in early American sewing factories (sweatshops). Identities change over time, they naturally ebb and flow, fluidly allowing us to navigate daily choices and tasks. So it just goes to show – it doesn’t matter where you come from, but where you are going.