Thoughts while knitting to Demon Copperhead

Okay, I don’t get out much. When I have to go to a medical appointment across town it is kind of a big deal. I have to adjust my drugs and diet for a couple of days. My oxygen bottles need to be ready to go. I need to minimize my time out of the house (brain fog becomes a big problem after about 3 hours) so I use my smart phone for everything that I can: check in, payment, and navigation to the medical center. My car, named Stumpy, handles my email along the way, tells me the route, and also gives me weather reports. I love technology!!

Getting ready for an outing.

The last time I went to my rheumatologist’s office I didn’t get into the elevator in time before it closed its door and left. Hey, there are a lot of elevators there and they don’t all go to the floor that I needed. Behind me, I heard the voice of a man who complained loudly about how impossible modern technology is, and he advised me to push the button again and to hope for the best. I pushed the button, and this time when my elevator car arrived, I had sorted things out and managed to get in the right one on time. He joined me and continued to rant about technology, and then suddenly began to vent about “needing our country back” and assured me that it would take a long time, but that we were going to “get the country back.”

Stunned, I looked at him from across the elevator car. He was an older white man in work clothes, someone who looked like he lived in a rural area. I may have backed up a little more. All I could manage to get out was that I had a different opinion from him, and immediately his manner changed, and he became polite. Yeah, right. I saw that rage you’ve got going on under your farm hat…I got out at my stop, got my little ol’ liberal butt out of there, and didn’t look back. How did that segue from frustration with technology to MAGA extremism in a heartbeat?

The incident really hit me because I was reading (well, listening to) Demon Copperhead at the time.

Demon Copperhead (by Barbara Kingsolver) seems to be a modern rendition of David Copperfield set in rural southern Appalachia (Lee County, Virginia) that has packed into it all the horrors of vulnerable populations in one neat package. It was the kind of book that is just horrifying while completely engaging you in the story. Demon is the child of a mother who dies young and is forced to enter the foster system. In placement after placement, he is mistreated and sometimes starved as he is used for labor or a source of income by his foster parents. As I read the book, I became aware of how bad things can be in an at-risk population where the job opportunities are few and far between, resources are limited, and education substandard. These communities, insular and tightly knit, cling to each other to help out and somehow survive as they are preyed upon and abused by corporations and pharmaceutical companies.

In spite of all of this, and even though Demon is betrayed again and again by the people in whose care he is placed, he survives, comes to terms with his history and the people in his life, and shines on as the author of a comic series about his people, the Appalachians. All the events and understandings of his life, the good and bad, come to life in his comic series called RedNeck, that shines a light on the people of his community.

This book is just amazing, and it really made me learn new things and start thinking about the world around me in new ways as I knitted along listening. Towards the end of the book, Demon mulls about the differences between people who live on the land, relying on each other, and the people in cities who scramble for money since money is needed for everything. From the perspective of advanced technology and more money, city people look down on land people as unsophisticated and ignorant, when in truth people should be more important than things. Conversely, it is also easy to feel intimidated and overwhelmed in unfamiliar situations; a modern high tech city (or medical center) certainly can be that to people who don’t have weekly trash pickup, sidewalks, or, yes, elevators. Suddenly I was back in the elevator in the Kaiser building, looking at a frumpy man who was furious about technology and the loss of his country.

This is me a few years ago, deep in a flare, clinging to my beloved cat, and living my best little scleroderma life. It was at about this time that my pulmonologist referred me to palliative care.

I’ve always been a fairly reflective person, but lately I’ve had more time than usual to think about things. I know people who are consumed by money and who hunger for expensive possessions. Some of these people want expensive things as status symbols, and there really isn’t enough money to make them happy. I recently ghosted someone who thought that I envied and resented their inheritance. I no longer correspond with a family member who told me that they would have more things if they hadn’t had children. My tax preparer last year exclaimed, in a shocked tone of voice, that I hadn’t made any money at all last year!

Well, yeah. After you have been referred to palliative care you just don’t worry about money anymore; I have everything that I need, and why would I want more? My prognosis has improved since then, but the lesson remained. Demon’s thoughts about the divisions between the people of the land and people who live in cities based on economies remain with me. In a way, the division between the healthy and the chronically ill is similar. The divisions between different ethnic and religious groups. The divisions between gun owners and those of us who want gun regulation. How many of these divisions are rooted in the underlying social/economic structures glimpsed in Demon Copperhead? I guess you could say that this book was life changing. I’m knitting to a new book these days, but the reflections rooted in Demon Copperhead go on.

Yesterday Demon Copperhead won the Pulitzer Prize!!