When I write about psychic maps, it’s usually about Martha’s Vineyard, right? Well, yeah. This is where I live and this is what I choose to write about.
One reason I choose to write about Martha’s Vineyard is that I believe writing about Martha’s Vineyard is writing about the world, just like writing about the world is writing about Martha’s Vineyard.
I won’t go into the book I recently proofread about the George W. Bush administration, with a focus on the relationship between President Bush and Vice President Cheney. You don’t want to know how often the blow-by-blow accounts of National Security Council meetings and White House staff meetings and all sorts of other meetings reminded me of meetings I’ve attended on Martha’s Vineyard. People who can’t see the forest for the trees. People who can’t see the trees for the forest. People who keep saying the same damn thing over and over even when they have no facts to support it. We’ve got it all — it’s just that they get paid more.
Plenty of Vineyarders won’t agree with me on this. Am I surprised? I am not. We don’t live on the same Martha’s Vineyard. My Martha’s Vineyard and their Martha’s Vineyard are not the same. They overlap at several points, notably Five Corners and the Vineyard Haven ferry dock, but our experiences of the place are different. Very, very different, in some cases.
Martha’s Vineyard is a small place. A hundred square miles, give or take, surrounded by ocean. If there are many Martha’s Vineyards, you’ve got to believe that there are a gazillion or so United States of Americas. OK, not a gazillion: I just Googled and the official population figure as of 2012 seems to be 313.9 million. Even allowing for considerable overlap, that’s a lot of Americas.
Sometimes, like after 9/11, it seems like the overwhelming majority of us are living in the same United States of America. We are living in the United States of America where two towers at the World Trade Center just collapsed into rubble after being hit by airplanes.
Other times, like right now, in the wake of the verdict in State of Florida v. George Zimmerman, it’s crystal clear that we don’t live in the same USA at all. Our USAs have different histories, and as any alternate-history fan can tell you, different histories result in different places. Even if none of the histories are “alternate” — if they all happened in our space-time continuum — the place each of us lives in is shaped by the history we know.
I’m a white girl who grew up in a white town in Massachusetts. When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, I barely knew who he was and I knew nothing about the significance of his life. (I blogged about this last year in “Homage to Dr. King.”) I started learning PDQ, and I’m still learning. But the upshot is that when Trayvon Martin was killed, he was the one I identified with. He was the one I could have been — not least because in my big-city days I was sometimes trailed down lonely streets by men whose intentions I had no way of knowing.
And that, I do believe, is what most of the visceral response to this case comes down to: Who do you identify with? Who could you have been?
At the moment I can’t even imagine myself George Zimmerman, jumping to the conclusion that the young guy walking away from the convenience store was dangerous, so dangerous that I have to get out of the car and pursue him. My hunch is that a Georgia Zimmerman would have reacted differently. But to the writer in me this is a challenge: can I expand my own psychic map to include George Zimmerman?
Don’t know, but I’ll see what I can do.