In Search of the Heart of Memphis

Monday, April 11, 2016

You Don’t Yet Know The Memphis Story

That You in the title is me. 

Learning a city and trying to absorb a lifetime’s worth of a city’s history and prejudices and narrative can be a daunting task. And writing about it can be very treacherous. Because your writing can only reflect your perceptions at that moment in time, when you still have a lot to learn, like a child moving from middle school to high school, understanding that just when you think you know the story, you don’t. 

There's a lot out there to learn

Having been fascinated with city history and urban development since I can remember, I am absorbing Memphis history like a sponge. But that doesn’t mean I can even remotely understand it all right away. It’s just not possible. So like that new high-schooler, right when I think I’ve written that profound blog post, I learn something new and suddenly I appear naive. I imagine watchful eyes, long-time Memphians of all races and incomes, or Boss Crump himself, looking down on what I have written, and saying “Young man, you don’t know nothin’ yet.”

E.H. "Boss" Crump, the man who shaped modern Memphis,
for better and/or for worse (stock photo)

But then that’s what this blog is. It’s an exploration. That’s why I called it “The Search” for Memphis’ heart. An explorer in the woods cannot possibly know what they will find until they find it. But during that exploration, they are free to comment on the trees and the meadows and the wildlife, without having to know yet the bigger picture, or even if the snapshots they take along the way make sense in the overall context of what the woods are all about. Seeing the forest for the trees, as the saying goes.



I’m still snapping photos of the trees along the way. I can’t see the entire forest yet, but I am sure as hell trying. 

All of which takes me back to one of my earlier posts. Newport Beach vs. Nashville vs. Memphis April 5, 2016.  Comparing the cost of living here in Memphis to California, I gave you readers some not-too-vague dollar figures that illustrated the cost of living in our household here in Midtown. And in reading Sunday’s Commercial Appeal and reviewing some city statistics, it dawned on me that our expenses for three to four months would be less than the total annual incomes of 20 percent of Memphis residents. 




Our expenses for three months! Less than many Memphians total annual incomes!? I had encountered a rather large tree that is representative of what Memphis is. 

Sunday's Commercial Appeal -
One of the best newspapers in the country 

I knew many of these facts going in. That we’re one of the poorest, most poverty-stricken cities in the country. I read it in the papers, see it on the news, and see it every day looking out my window. And it’s not lost on me that my wife and I are lucky, part of the other half of Memphis that can afford to take advantage of our city’s low cost of living. 

My perspective is also a white perspective. My wife and I will often joke about having “first world problems.” I realize of course it’s no joke here in Memphis. Believe me, I am very sensitive to the struggles others may have. And although some of my blog posts my appear rosy at times, I by no means wear rose-colored glasses. Lilly white maybe, but not rose. 

Tim Sampson in the Memphis Flyer last week wrote an excellent column, “Savage City,” that expresses his perplexity over violent crime in our city and what Dr. King would think of it all. And Mr. Sampson says at one point, “I’m not brainy enough to know the answer to all this.” 

New to Memphis? Pick up the Flyer for free every Wednesday
I hear ya, man. Those are exactly my sentiments when I think about solutions to our poverty problem. Or any problem our city faces. 

And I do think about them. While learning the city, while exploring its history, while discovering the prejudices that are present here, I also wrack my brain for solutions. I would love to be part of the solution. Somehow someway I want this blog to be part of the solution. 

So as you read my posts - hopefully you are actually reading them - please realize that I am green, so green, in my Memphis learning curve. Maybe I seem at times “brainy enough” with my posts, and I’d like to think that I am, but often I step back and realize that, six months into my journey, I have only just begun to see the entire forest. 


Keep reading.

1 comment:

  1. There are lots of trees in Memphis. And the leaves fall all over the place!

    ReplyDelete