We went to a family funeral in Norfolk, my birthplace, and I discovered I was Minnie Pearl. My wife wants me to get a new sports coat (what would people think, you know), so I went to Kohl’s and got one. I cut off the tag joking that I didn’t want to look like MinniePearl. (I just watched Ken Burns Country Music documentary). After I went to the funeral—which by the way even had family members who were dressed casually—and I was the best-dressed man there, with black coat and pants but with a rose-colored shirt and matching tie for some color. Getting in the car I noticed a large tag on my sleeve. MY GOD. I was Minnie Pearl! You just cannot escape your shortcomings.
The Zen Fit for this talk, however, is about how one transcends the label you don’t see sewed on your mind. You know something is hanging there because you can feel everyone looking at you, pointing to something you cannot seel. You turn around and around, but you can’t see what they are laughing at. You feel deplorable.
Watching Ken Burns Country Music has been a source of insight that keeps on giving to me, and today it’s Minnie Pearl and country music struggle to escape its Hilly Billy roots and its equally voracious desire to “not get about its raisings.” In other words, don’t abandon your roots, but what if your “roots” are an embarrassment. That was one of the threads in the documentary, one that held the price tag from Minnie Pearl’s hat.
Minnie Pearl joyfully participated, willfully participated, in the Hill Billy label that those born in the mountains felt tattooed upon their minds when they descended into the mainstream society that didn’t speak like them.
You realize that the roots of the Appalachian people were in Ireland and Scotland, who in England was beyond the pale of civilization. But the root goes deeper because England proper was civilized by the Romans, but Rome walled off Scotland and the ocean protected Ireland from invasion. So from the beginning of recorded history, the people of Ireland and Scotland, not only being pagan were tribal people who resisted the civilizing force of Roman/English classical order. The tribal people who were “beyond the pale” always labeled wild, uncouth, and barbarian. So even today, this collective karma shapes the minds we live in.
Karma morphs into political movements, and the Trump Clan today is, to me in this Zen Fit, a political Grand Old Opry. They wear the label Deplorable proudly. They give the finger to those who have labeled them, looked down on them, and made them the butt of Redneck jokes.
Taking our cue from the Country Music documentary, the Minnie Pearl solution to the labeling is to wear the label with laughter and through the tension of the wanting and not wanting the label to find the energy to create music and art.
Let’s look at this tension, the tension in the ambiguity of being two judgments that are opposite but mutually dependent so they cannot be separated.
Stay with me here because we are going deep. Objectively, I feel the sting and the burn of the label, but subjective, in my inner heart of me, I know I am not that label. I’m conflicted. I feel the burn of the social judgment, and I also know I am not that label. Who am I? Which I am I?
I either feel I am deplorable, or I feel I am not, but I cannot feel both at the same time. I oscillate between the two Me’s, first feeling shame, then feeling free from shame. But I cannot be one or the other, so I oscillate.
Along comes Minnie Pear who embraced the negative, and through that embrace of my negative judgment, I am One. The wound is transcended through the act, through the art, through the persona of Minnie Pearl who wears the negative with pride and joy. That joy, that music is the liberation from the label. You see that? You wear the label to be free of the label. Our roots in Country are deep indeed.
As a metaphor, Minnie Pearl is transferrable to any negative label you feel burdened with. It is the Mental Label that is stitched in pain, and when we look for it in form, we cannot find it. A mental label has no stitching. It is the shape of our mind like a fishbowl shapes the water in which the fish swims. When we have had a Mind Label, a negativity, a feeling of being unworthy, of being a mistake, a shameful embarrassment—a Fleabag, if you will—then no matter where we turn and look we cannot see the label. It’s hanging from our hat to the backside, so no matter which way we turn our head, the label is out of sight. Do you see the beauty of the Minnie Pearl hat tag now? She cannot see it, yet she does see it because we know she is consciously putting on the hat, so she pretends she does not see it, yet we know she does. Metaphors are ambiguous that way. Metaphor is liberating that way.
County Music is a Minnie Pearl label. The singer wears the sorrow of the song, feels the sorrow, the loss, the death, and yet the singer is not the loss. The singer is both the loss and the joy of not being the loss, both simultaneously in the music.
So in the ambiguity of the art of the song; joy and sorrow are mixed like gin and vermouth of a martini. You feel good when you drink the sorrowful song.