Tuesday, July 07, 2015

My Own Southern Heritage

"Southern heritage" seems to be all the rage (in every sense of that word) in these days following the unspeakable murders in Charleston last month. Seems what I consider my Southern heritage isn't the same as what the media or folks waving that awful flag think it to be.

My Southern heritage can be found in places like Atlanta History Center, or Chickamauga Battlefield, Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, Memphis' Graceland, or New Orleans' Preservation Hall. It can be found in the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains, the Outer Banks, and the Okefenokee Swamp and in the quilts of the women of Gee's Bend, Alabama, the baskets of Sea Island, Georgia, and the dulcimers, fiddles, and banjos of Appalachia.

And since nobody tells a tale like my Southern brothers and sisters, I'm proud of my story-spinning heritage from the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Kate Chopin, Thomas Wolfe, Zora Neale Hurston, Katherine Anne Porter, William Faulkner, Maya Angelou, and, yes, Margaret Mitchell. William Styron, Alice Walker, Tennessee Williams, Flannery O'Connor, Truman Capote, Harper Lee, James Dickey, Richard Wright, Eudora Welty - yep, I'll claim all of them as part of my Southern heritage. Writers from the South or writing from a Southern perspective are the stars of American literature, past and present. Mine. Claimin' 'em. By the way, I get my current Southern storytelling fix from The Bitter Southerner. It tells more about the South than any sound-bite media fascination or hateful racist hell-bent on shooting up or burning a church.

My Southern heritage is wrap-around porches, broad-leafed magnolias with punchbowl-sized blossoms, fried chicken and watermelon, Co-Cola and Goo-Goo Clusters, pallets on sleeping porches, and family, family, family. It's y'all and yes, ma'am. It's humidity, lightning bugs, and flip-flops in the summer and going crazy over a few flakes of snow in the winter. It's laughing until you cry. A lot. It's hospitality and hugs and that double-edged sword, "Bless your heart" - for everyone, whatever your color or gender/sexual preference, economic background, education, or religious affiliation. And of course, "How's yo' mama?"

The Gresham-Weed family cemetery right on busy Chamblee-Tucker Road in Atlanta, as well as the Nicholson-Pardue cemetery behind the farmhouse in Henrietta, Tennessee, are both a part of my Southern heritage. Of course, some of the men resting there fought for the South in the Civil War, though to my knowledge they were all poor dirt farmers, not slave-holders. Not excusing their participation - it was what they did at that time in history, may they rest in peace. Many more, however, served the United States in the World Wars and beyond, fighting for the US flag.

Certainly, slavery and racism are part of my Southern heritage, too. Many other parts of the United States share in that history, but this isn't about them; it's about my particular part of the country. I will own it. I will learn from it. I will check myself if tempted to place blame on an entire race or class of people, even poor (and rich) Southern white folks, since only God knows what's in people's hearts.

So. I'm telling you that the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia is not a symbol of my Southern heritage. For me and many, many people born and raised in the South, it represents sinful oppression and a lost, really bad, cause. There were many flags of the Confederacy, but this is the one that is used by the KKK, folks opposed to Civil Rights in the 1950s and 60s (and, it seems, beyond), and is proudly waved by crazy, wild-eyed racists and people bent on causing evil. So, no, not my Southern heritage.

As a proud daughter of the South and what I believe is my true Southern heritage, I resent that rich legacy being hijacked by the folks still fighting the Civil War or the media constantly shining a spotlight on the least educated or most hateful among us. Most Southerners didn't build this region using slave labor, so dig deeper on that story if you don't know it. Thanks to the genius and hard work of both blacks and whites, the South is a culturally diverse powerhouse, with unsurpassed scenic beauty and a knack for telling a good story and singing a great song.

Most importantly, my Southern heritage is a piece of a great American crazy-quilt - a piece I love, but just one of many squares. When it comes to citizenship, I am an American, y'all.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Take the pledge

Celebrate! Run, eat, swim, hike, enjoy fireworks and baseball. Just please take a little time to re-read The Declaration of Independence. Yes, some of the signers were slaveholders, women had no active role in its writing, and we've never lived up to its ideals (could any nation?). It was a product of its time. Still, the ideals set forth are something to aspire to.

Everyone may interpret it differently. Some may see Corporate America as the modern day King George; others will see the President, Congress, or the Supreme Court in the king role. But it is not a Republican or Democratic (big R, big D) or Tea Party  or Green Party document. The signers wrangled over every word. There were almost insurmountable disagreements. And yet, they pledged to each other "our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

Goodness gracious, can we not do the same?

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Taking the Leap, Coming of Age

It took enormous courage. You were all alone on your climb, though a knot of friends was usually there, too - urging, cheering, goading. The basics clicked through your head as each rung took you farther from the cement. Breathe. Keep moving up. Don't think about it. And for goodness sake, don't look down. Just jump.

Taking that first harrowing climb and leap off the high diving board used to be a milestone coming of age experience for a kid. Most of us reached it at 8 or 9 or 10; some did it younger; a few couldn't screw up the courage until they were 12 or 13. But you had to do it. Had to. Or you couldn't move on. Kid-pride was as stake. And if you broke your neck (which I never heard of anyone ever doing), well, at least you'd taken the leap.

I took my first brave jump at 8 or 9 off the high board at Harrison Bay State Park pool near Chattanooga, the very one in the photo on the right. I can only liken the rush of adrenaline of the climb and leap to the excitement of creeping in to the Christmas tree early Christmas morning. More fearful, of course, but the heart-pounding energy was the same. And, oh! Once I realized I had actually survived, why, I got out of the pool and joined the line to climb and jump again.

Sad to think most high diving boards have been dismantled, blowing to smithereens the opportunity for current and future generations to make the climb of terror, the long plunge to success. We all know why. There are no more high dives for the same reasons there are no more wooden-seated swings, tall metal slides, or unhelmeted bike rides on a sturdy Schwinn. Maybe it's about improved safety, though I suspect it's more about insurance risks and law suits. Sure, there are high diving platforms for the Olympic-types, but even if a kid gets the chance to try one out, the missing element of peer pressure - all those friends encouraging or teasing - would dilute the true coming of age experience.

If you find a great outdoor pool with a high diving board, make the climb. Feel the terror. Feel the exhilaration. Feel the triumph when you realize you've survived. And encourage your kids to do the same. That jump builds character and memories.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Of Humidity, Honeysuckle, and Hydrangeas

The air's getting heavier, just shy of turning into a wall of mist, as storms roll into Atlanta for the week. I am not a big fan of heat and humidity, preferring the good cool snap of an autumn breeze or the steely cold of a few inches of snow. However, we're heading full steam (yes, steam) toward June, so I must find whatever joy I can from sauna-season.

My neighborhood walks are helping me find that joy. The humidity brings out the most delicious fragrances of grass, new foliage, and every bloomin' blooming thing. The scent of honeysuckle is particularly heady this spring, simply yummy. Just a whiff of honeysuckle is all the incentive I need to keep up the pace for a few more minutes.

And colors really pop in the moist air.. The greens are greener, the yellows yellowier. A shout out to the hydrangeas out there! Your coconut-size blooms are particularly colorful this year - the blues and pinks and purples are simply brilliant. Hooray for you!

So for the fragrant colors of an Atlanta spring, I will suffer the overly-dewy skin and lank hair that humidity brings and find joy in how it heightens the senses. I will also find joy in my air conditioned home once my walks are over. Onward to June!

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

10 Questions About the Met Gala

The top 10 questions (OK, more than ten) that popped into my head while trying to avoid most of the news about this:
  1.  How many people are invited to this thing? I assume it's "invitation only;" do the invites come from Anna Wintour only, or can others get folks on the list, as well?
  2. I think the gala/ball is $25K/per person, so obviously you don't pay at the door. Do they give you little plastic, glow-in-the-dark wristbands, or stamp your hand, or what, to show you've forked over? I mean, what if someone on Anna's Pooh-List shows up uninvited/paid for? Who's gonna know? 
  3. The Met Gala is also called a Ball. Once they prance up that long flight of steps, do they go inside and dance somewhere? Is it like a Cinderella kind of ball?
  4. If there is, indeed, dancing, what space at the Met is used for that? The entrance hall? The Temple of Dendur? The American Wing? Is there a marquee out back in Central Park? As large as the Met is, there's not one space big enough for everyone to line-dance, so where?
  5. Once the women get inside, do they change into something more comfortable/movable/cover-up-able? Seriously, even if there isn't any ballroom dancing going on, how do Rihanna, Beyonce, SJP, et. al., keep from tripping and falling into priceless artworks? (The men don't have to worry because they're dressed relatively normal.)
  6. Is there drinking? If so, then I am really worried about all those Greek statues, Medieval armour displays, Tiffany glass, Rembrandts, and, yes, even the Temple of Dendur. Drinking, plus impossible-to-maneuver dresses, spells disaster to me.
  7. Is there eating? Aren't they worried they'll drip BBQ sauce down the front of whatever it is they're wearing? Do they hand out big lobster bibs? Or has everyone actually changed into jeans by the time the food is brought out?
  8. I get that it's a fundraiser for the Met's Costume Institute, but really, women, have you no decency? Have you no shame? Crazy is fine, but some of what makes its way up those steps looks like 1978 Frederick's of Hollywood.You could use a few style tips from Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis.
  9. Why do we never see pictures of people leaving the gala/ball? Do they just go up the steps and out the basement exit (no dancing, drinking, or food)? Is it really just one big photo op, then off to Starbucks?
  10. What in the hell are any of the Kardashians doing there? (And, yes, I'm embarrassed I can spell "Kardashian.")
I'm sure I could Google all of these questions and get answers, but I just cannot be bothered to spend one more millisecond of energy on this thing. Just please clean up after yourselves when you leave. Thank you.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Why I'm not thinking about Nepal this very minute

Social media and headlines are asking, "Have we forgotten Nepal already?" Strike "Nepal" and insert "kidnapped Nigerian girls," "Syria," "the migrants who drowned in the Mediterranean," or "ebola." Such media-nudges make me feel guilty at first, causing me to wonder if I'm shallow in my concern for global mega-events. But once I wrestle with the guilt, I'm left with confusion.

Since the earthquake in Nepal, Baltimore has erupted, various political announcements/pronouncements have been made, a princess was born, Tony nominations were announced, car bombs went off in various places, Ben E. King, Jean Nidetch, Ruth Rendell, Calvin Peete, and Jayne Meadows died, there were never-ending stories about NFL draft/NBA playoffs (OK, I really don't care about either of those, but they do take up news space), and some horse won the Kentucky Derby. The constant news bombardment can be blamed on technology and the infamous 24-hour TV/internet news cycle, but that's really just the outside world part of it. Life requires getting up, moving forward, even with mundane, ordinary stuff.

So to the big news items of the week, add deadlines at work requiring long hours, a couple of family birthdays, helping with a yard sale, getting a grandchild to/from choir rehearsal and performance, first of the month bill-paying, helping with a yard sale, a fabulous St. Helena's Chapter dinner meeting, laundry, eating, sleeping, bathing. You know, just the things of life that everyone enjoys or copes with.

Certainly, most of the daily news and everyday stuff can't hold a candle to massive global tragedies. But living one's own life, a life that is made up of family, friends, work, play, and taking care of mental, physical, and spiritual health, is what we human animals do. It sounds self-centered, but I suppose much of life is self- or family-centered. That doesn't mean I don't have a caring, mission-focused heart. I do care. Deeply. But which catastrophes stake their claims on my life and stay for extended periods of time? How do I decide what to worry about, send money to, or put on work boots and travel to the ends of the earth or around the corner for? Yes, there's the confusion (and admittedly, some guilt).

Have I forgotten Nepal already? No, certainly not. The people of Nepal, as well as rescue and aid workers, are in my prayers. I donate to relief organizations, which are much better at real, practical help than my constant worrying could possibly be. But, truth be told, I'm not thinking about Nepal or any of those other awful world news things 24/7. Bills to pay, deadlines to meet, sleep to sleep.

So, news media and Facebook friends, don't assume I've forgotten. Just know that living life sucks out an awful lot of energy every day. Keep reminding me.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Thinking Porch

One of the hardest things for me to do is to just sit and think, to let my mind wander where it may. Maybe because that sounds kind of dangerous. Who knows what crazy ideas might come out of taking the leash off my brain? Still, it does get tired of kicking into action for all the practical day-to-day stuff, for work or in a crisis. But there never seems to be the right time or place to go beyond the energy of immediate thinking.

For the past few months, I've had a deep need to get away from practical thoughts. Yes, to just sit and think. To dream, explore, wonder. To not think about the everyday or the have-to stuff.

So why can't I do that any time, any place? I'm guessing it's my appalling lack of self-control in responding to technology, petty household chores, and the need for mani/pedis, unnecessary trips to Publix, and naps. I own my lack of self-control in these areas and more, but my brain was in need of a good spring cleaning, so I decided to do something about it. Last week, I took a little vacation time, found what looked like the perfect getaway location, and headed for the hills.

My room was the only one at the hotel with a private porch. Granted, the (very unbusy) parking lot ran along one side of it, but the porch faced the lake, hills, and lots of azaleas, wild honeysuckle, and evergreen trees and made a nice little nest - wooden chair with several cushions, a little table to prop up my feet, side tables for the stacks of things I'd planned to do to unwind. Read. Write. Draw. Drink tea. Yes, big plans.

But once I settled into my little outdoor nook, I found myself not energized to read or what have you; rather, I was constantly being called out of my books and journals by wind in the trees, chattering birds, and the wet-on-wet sound of water in the garden fountain. After wasting some time trying to stick with the program I'd set for myself, it dawned on me that I should take advantage of the sights and sounds around me, lay aside the books, and just see where my mind would take me.  Fortunately, where it called me wasn't work or money or other routine things that usually demand brain-time. I was called to let my head go wherever it wanted (yes, perhaps a little dangerous), to indulge in the luxury of deep thinking with no real purpose, no endgame thought-goal. And it was divine.

I won't bore you with what I thought about or what life questions and answers I worked out. The point is that spending early mornings, afternoons just before suppertime, and late into the nights on that thinking porch was exactly the spring cleaning my fuzzy old brain needed. Cups and cups of tea helped, too, by the way. As I let the mountain sounds sink in and blow through, really listening to the birds, frogs, insects, wind, and rain, I realized the reading and writing could wait. The thinking couldn't.

I didn't miss TV or my laptop. I didn't miss being in a fancy-schmancy hotel, though I had every necessary comfort in this small mountain inn. I didn't miss sticking to a plan. I let it all go. Just to sit. Just to listen. Just to notice. Just to think.






Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Now I'm 64


Yes, the day has come. The day that seemed so far off to a 16-year-old in 1967 when she first heard a catchy little Beatles ditty. I am 64.

Unless something suddenly changes today, there are folks who need me and feed me (well, I can still do that myself). I have grandchildren on my knee or with arms around my neck, though it's Liam and Charlotte, not Vera, Chuck, and Dave. I can let my own self in if I come home at quarter to three (very rare, that), go for a ride on Sunday morning (or any other day of the week), do some damage to a bottle of wine, and can mend my own fuses (though I can't knit, by the fireside or any other side).

It's hard to imagine what 64 is like to a 16-year-old, or to a young songwriter, for that matter. Knock wood for continued good health, I look beyond today to continue putting my heart and soul into my family, my friends, my vocation, and whatever God leads me to do. I hope to write more. I hope to pay more attention and take time to reflect on the small stuff that makes up life. I want to give in more to joy and give in less to stress.

The great thing about getting older is that I just don't give a damn what you think about my clothes, my weight, the wrinkles on my face/hands/etc., my religion, my political views, my choice of reading material, or the color of the rug in my living room. In short, I'm here to be true to myself and be the best mother/grandmother/sister/aunt/friend I can be in my doddering elderdom.

So, 64, I embrace you! Pass the wine!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Everything Points to the First Rhubarb Pie

Nothing pleases my poor little would-be writer's heart more than discovering the work of a real, true writer. Someone who absolutely nails descriptions, ideas, and life-stuff to such a degree that I slow down just so I can savor the words. Such is the case with Verlyn Klinkenborg's book, The Rural Life, based on his New York Times column about life on his small farm in upstate New York.

The book sat on my shelf for a year or two, one of those situations where I read a good review of it and ordered right away (damn you, Amazon, for so easily indulging my biblio-cravings!) but never quite got to it. I mean, really, The Rural Life. What was I thinking? I am all city-girl. The rural life appeals to me not one iota, though I can stand 3-4 days at a time without bright lights, traffic, sirens, and people, people, people. Much beyond that and I start to wither a little (damn you, extrovert/A-type personality!). So, no, not a rural girl in the least. But what drew me to the book originally was the idea of getting more in touch with the seasons and changes of nature, plus having read many of Klinkenborg's columns in the Times. 

Somehow, winter seemed a good time to pick up The Rural Life and see what I might be missing in my brightly-lit world. The book is organized by months, and it was January, so, yeah. A good time to start. January. It's now April. I'm still reading. Here's the kicker: It's only 212 pages, and I'm only halfway through (July, if you're interested). But I find myself  re-reading chunks of chapters and whole chapters, just so I won't miss some glorious bit of prose. A yellow highlighter sits handy to underline phrases, sentences - yea, verily, even paragraphs - that must be mulled over and remembered.

A few, a very few, of my too-good-to-forget images from The Rural Life:
  • "Other seasons come abruptly but ask so little when they do. Winter is the only one that has to be relearned."
  • "A garden is just a way of mapping the strengths and limitations of your personality onto the soil."
  • "In this part of the world each day seems to bring a different, contradictory season. But everything points to the first rhubarb pie." 
  • "Everyone reaches for fullness in summer, but the fullness that most of us know best belongs to the memory of childhood. What was it that made summer days so long back then and made the future seem so distant? What was the thing we knew or didn't know?"
  • "The root of the New England character is incredulity, a state of chronic, weather-induced heartbreak .  . ."
The language speaks to me. The order of the words speaks to me. The soul-grabbing images speak to me. I want to remember all of this. I want that hope of the rhubarb pie, or trying to discover what I knew or didn't know all those summers ago. The writing demands deep reflection, something I'm not very good at. I'm working on it.

There is a slight downside to all of this, though. While I purely love exceptional writing, it does hit home that I will never achieve this level of expression. Oh, I can tell a pretty good story - and storytelling is so, so important, I get it - but I'll never write anything that demands yellow-highlighter proximity, phrases that must be remembered. Nothing that will ever point to the first rhubarb pie. But I can surely appreciate the ones to whom the gift has been given.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Best Flat Belly Detox Recipe

Is a flat-belly detox on your New Year's resolution list? So many concoctions have cropped up on social media over the past week, with ingredients ranging from kale and strawberries to sawdust and cow dung. Just run 'em through the blender, ingest via the mouth (or wherever) four times daily for two weeks, and bam! No belly. No body toxins. And probably no appetite for anything else, once you've wrapped your lips around a cow-dung smoothie.

But do not believe a word Gwyneth Paltrow might say. I, yes I, have your perfect detox recipe right here. You don't even have to work it into your system several times a day. Or week. Or month. In fact, I recommend once a week, max. OK, pay close attention. Here it is:
  • 2 (or 3, depending on how detoxified you want to be) scoops vanilla ice cream
  • 1 (or 2, depending on how flat you want that belly of yours) cups hot fudge sauce
  • handful of walnuts, pecans, or almonds (or all three)
  • 1 cup (or 2, depending on how brave you are) freshly whipped double cream
  • 1 fake cherry, or another cup of hot fudge sauce, or both (depending on how bat-shit crazy you are)
  • 1 big ol' spoon
Now, if you're lactose intolerant or nut-allergic, well, this won't work for you until you check yourself into a clinic and get un-lactose intolerated and de-nut allergerized. (It'll be worth it in the end, truly.)

After you have one of these unbelievably tasty detox brews per week, or even every two weeks, you, too, can be flat-bellied untoxicated.

A couple more things are required: get 20-30 minutes of exercise at least 5 times a week (walking briskly is fine, as are a couple of sit ups and vacuuming the living room). And let your kidneys, liver, lungs, and skin do the job they are meant to do - remove the toxins from your system. Unless your natural body-included detoxicators aren't working properly (yes, another visit to the clinic), that's all you need to detox anything you may ingest except for alcohol and drugs. That's right! Your body regularly detoxifies itself! Unbelievable news, I know.

Please don't put these organs out of work. Let them do their job. And don't forget your feet. They like to walk. OK, pass that hot fudge sauce. I have a resolution to keep.