Tension in the Timeline 10


They came on horses, on foot, in crowds tired and tattered, forcibly marched west, faces stained with salt and dust and heartache.

They came, freedmen who had heard the tales of jobs, chances, homes of their own. They boarded trains, rode wagons, gathered up their lives and moved them from the deep south to the growing west.

They came for the oil. To find it, to honor it with buildings and rail lines and then they came to feed the oil and its congregants, with groceries and healthcare and law.

And when they arrived, they worked. They saved. They grew their families and made their homes. They lived by the unjust rules and they fought in the first World War. They had expectations. They harbored their dreams.

They watched as their dreams ignited with the fuel of hate. They witnessed their world return to the red earth from which they had coaxed it. Thirty five city blocks turned to ash over two days in 1921. They gave their lives in a home front battle that continues riddle the city with shame.

Nearly 100 years later, Tulsa wonders if anything has changed, in light of the so-called Good Friday Shootings. That light shines like a prison yard beacon into the corners of our history, and most of us are uncomfortable with what scurries in those dark places.

Living in a city with a complicated history is living in the tension. Embracing this city as my home has come to include cherishing its past, a worn blanket unraveled by the small fingers of time, even the ugly parts. The ugly parts are still part of the story, and telling the story keeps it burning in our minds. This is the power of story.

Writers are taught that to create a complicated character for whom the reader can cheer, he must not be perfect. Readers must be able to identify and sympathize with the character. The history of Tulsa, including the sordid bits, is compelling to me because it is the imperfect character that I have come to call home. So I live in its tension right along with it, and try to tell some of its story.

What tensions are in your city or life? How do you manage the dissonance?


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10 thoughts on “Tension in the Timeline

  • Lisa Colon DeLay

    There is a lot of alcoholism in my area. Yuengling beer has been here for 6 generations and that with the oppression of what made mining towns makes it a strange place to live as an outsider. I don’t know if or how I manage the tension. It gets to me.

  • ang_merrick

    ***Disclaimer: the author of this review makes no claim to have a college degree, published work (save one very sap-sick horribly rhyming poem from childhood) or be scholarly regarding literature in any way, shape or form. Currently, however, she’s basking in the afterglow of reuniting with her old flame (stories). 

    Onward and upward….so, this piece: so Willa Cather. Rests easy, but not empty….
    For example: “worn blanket unraveled by the small fingers of time”
    Calls to mind the blankets passed down to my mother by my grandmother. 🙂 Which, I believe, was your intent. You did more than knock out a solid, unique metaphor; you wielded your comparison efficiently. You know, I’ve been quite irked w/ my writing lately. ADHD can be both a blessing and a curse to an artist, I think. My point is: with that one line alone, you opened my eyes to my irresponsibility with metaphors. I’m a bit reckless with adjectives sometimes ;-)….you should see inside my head, though. It’s like the ultimate game of adjective dodgeball. This is about your writing, not mine, though :). I WOULD like to hear more about the “ugly parts” of Tulsa’s “complicated history”. I would like to sit awkward in it’s tension a bit more. Love this:  “most of us are uncomfortable with what scurries in those dark places.”  I feel like a little girl toddling in her mother’s heels after reading this story. ‘S a good thing for me, feeling small after reading. Means there’s someone big around to lead the way.:)

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      You are too funny. Thank you, friend. That line is a favorite of mine, too. I love love love adjectives. The more the merrier. I tend to overuse them. I am reminded of the writing tip, was it from Stephen King, remove all of your adjectives. That would break my heart. However, hopefully with a well placed metaphor, we can deliver the same idea more elegantly.

      That said, if you click the links above, you can learn more about our racially divided town. Very sad. Very real.

      • ang_merrick

        Yes, I guess I should have said: “describe the problems in your own beautiful words so I don’t have to click links to get the info” ;-)….

  • Chad Jones

    The same could be said of most cities. I live in Arizona. Land of Miranda, Chavez, & SB1070.
    There is tension everyday.

    The same could be said of our souls–because we live in the tension between the now & the not yet, between who we are and who we’re becoming. We live knowing that we are far worse than anyone knows, yet incredibly loved by God anyway. That is the tension we live in–between this world, and the next.

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      Exactly, Chad. I have been thinking much about all the ways I live in different tensions. As a mom, a wife, a woman, a believer. I am both redeemed and imperfect. Giving my all and desperate to hold some back. I find that the older I get, the more comfortable I am with these tensions.