…dey’s parched up from not knowin’ things. Dem meatskins is got tuh rattle tuh make out they’s alive. Let ’em consolate theyselves wid talk. ’Course, talkin’ don’t amount tuh uh hill uh beans when yuh can’t do nothin’ else. -Janie
(Their Eyes Were Watching God)
Janie got hitched when she was sixteen. Her grandmother set her up as soon as she saw a suitor come-a-knockin’, to whisper in her granddaughter’s ear the sweet seduction of promises soon to be broken. In her old age, she knew all men did not mean well, as many reserved for women abuses only the female sex could name. So Nanny did what she could to secure the future of the girl-child she raised: married her off to a property-owning man with a good reputation, who would take care of and not lay a hand on her Janie, so help her God. And he didn’t. He treated her well enough. Owned sixty acres of land and worked it every day. Worked hard, in fact, and was faithful. But Janie did not love him. He was too rough, and simple… not the man she dreamed of making house and home with. So she ran off with a sweet talker, who – as Nanny would have suspected had she been alive long enough to bear witness – underdelivered on all his promises. Soon enough, it became clear that he wasn’t the man advertised, who seduced Janie into leaving her husband in search of high-livin’. He became obsessed with status and the keeping up of appearances, while she was made to play the role of the trophy horse, standing beside him, constantly berated and admonished to be quiet! And if she dared exercise her tongue he got to work. He was liberal with the fist, and used his mouth and hands whenever necessary. Janie was close to forty when he passed away. Soon after she met a man over ten years her junior, who finally bloomed her blossoms. He was far from perfect, but loved her perfectly.
And the town-women were in uproar.
It’s uh known fact, Pheoby, you got tuh go there tuh know there. Yo’ papa and yo’ mama and nobody else can’t tell yuh and show yuh. Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves…
If there is one thing that our society knows well, it’s celebrity. We know it so well that we sometimes forget where their lives end and ours begin, wondering and dreaming about the day when, we too, will become rich and famous. The next artist, athlete, or actress. The next millionaire entrepreneur, breakthrough author, person to sit on Oprah’s couch. We talk about them, gossip, and would sometimes rather ingest the fake news of tabloids than none at all. Or maybe it’s just me. But does not consuming such things leave us as empty as we were before?
Janie returned home untriumphant. Her only love, Tea Cake, died trying to save her life. She was recounting her journey to her best friend, Pheobe, when she mentioned that she was aware the women in town would press to find out what she had been up to. She said it was fine for Pheobe to tell them, and not be too hard on them being nosy. They were parched from not knowing things… Are we parched from not knowing things?… and the only way they could tell they were alive was if their ribcages rattled with gossip… Do we only “live” for the sake of other people’s triumphs, and downfalls?… Although their talk ultimately amounted to nothing, it offered them consolation, so let them have it… Have our words ceased to have meaning or weight, in-and-of-themselves?
The difference between Janie and the women in the town she left, and now returned to, is that she had lived.
The parallel between the quotes above and our social media, Instagram-obsessed society is undeniable. Some of us only have on the tips of our tongues the tales of other people’s feats, and it’s killing us. There is a spirit indestructible yearning to be realized in its unique, full, and authentic everythingness. What’s the point of it all if we are only to be “meatskins” that “rattle tuh make” sure we’se alive? “Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves!”
T. M. G.
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. E-book.