Friday, July 24, 2009

A rose by any other name...

Yesterday I was talking to two friends about the fact that I needed to spend today getting myself and my three kids packed for our trip to the beach tomorrow. I'm not supposed to be spending it reading blogs and writing my own, but that's just how I roll! Nothing like packing at the last minute.

The subject of packing for husbands came up. One friend said she did not do anything to get her husband ready for a trip, because they are both veteran travellers for work, and it would be counter-productive for her to pack for him. Makes perfect sense to me. However, I mentioned that my mother had packed for my father, a retired salesman, for just about every weekly trip he had taken in 30 years, which I think is ridiculous (sorry, Daddy!). My friend said, "Yeah, but she was a housewife, right?" To which I said the thing that got me thinking, "No, actually she worked. But, I'm a housewife, and I don't pack for my husband." What? As soon as I said that word, I was uncomfortable. Did I really use that word, housewife? I am married with three children and do not do work that brings in a paycheck, but I do not consider myself a housewife.

When I was a new mother, a friend who was a few years older than me told me that she did not like the term "housewife," because she was married to a man, not a house. I've never forgotten that, and I am truly thankful not to be married to my house. If I was married to my house, it would be demanding a divorce right now. I do not love it and show it the respect it rightly deserves. I ignore it and let it sit in its own dust and clutter and turn a blind eye while I blithely type away on the computer. I have not fancied my house up in pretty paint and curtains, nor have I put paintings or objects of art throughout its rooms, so I'm pretty sure it hates me for that. I am a very bad wife to my house, so needless to say, I do not use that term.

Now let me say something about my friend lest anyone be confused. She respects my position as a "non-paid" mom, and she would never say anything to hurt my feelings. I am sure she used the term "housewife" because she was referring to our mothers' generation and that was the term that they used. This post is not about political correctness. I hate the "word police." We have enough problems in the world without people getting offended for other people. Most people who are up on their "PC" horses are completely disingenuous, and they make me crazy! 'Nuff said.

So, back to my real question. What do I call me? If I don't even know what to call myself, how can I expect others to know what to call me? Some of the titles I have used are stay-at-home mom, which is okay, but doesn't exactly fill the bill. I do stay home to take care of my children, but I also drive kids all over creation and do a lot more than take care of children. I've also used homemaker, but that one makes me nervous. If I am a home maker, what sort of home am I making? Is it a pleasant home? Is it a clean home? Is it a home that is good for my husband, children and myself? I want to break out in hives when I start thinking too much about that, probably because I feel convicted about not being such a great homemaker (see house wanting a divorce above).

Yes, I've heard the titles such as domestic engineer or Mom on Call (okay, my kids are already way too entitled already. There is no way I am giving myself a name that suggests I am at their beck and call!) I even Googled titles for stay-at-home moms and found a Washington Post contest to come up with a new name. I didn't really like the contest, because it was based on political correctness, but I was down-right offended by some of the comments. Lil_Husky suggested that women like me should be called MoochiMoms. Lil_Husky, you are an idiot. Working moms and dads pay someone to take care of their children, but since I do that for my children without getting paid, you think I am mooching off my husband? If I died tomorrow, he would have to pay someone to take care of them, so what exactly is the problem with THEIR OWN MOTHER taking care of them FOR NO PAY? Lil_Husky, I will not waste my outrage on you. I am sure that you are unsightly, have body odor, and no wife or children, therefore you hate women and are bitter. Or even worse, you are one of those husbands who has his wife on an "allowance" of $50 a week for all household expenses whether she needs that much or not. Or worse yet, you are forcing her to work a job she hates when all she really wants to do is be home with her children. *Note to self, do not read comments from idiots.*

The biggest part of my naming problem is that mom is not the only role I play in life. I have many roles: wife, daughter, sister, unpaid writer, Girl Scout leader, school volunteer, embroiderer (for which I do get paid, but it is a pittance and as my husband would say, "If if costs you money, it is a hobby, not a job.") Not to mention the more existential roles I play: child of God, friend, role model, citizen of a small town, the state of Tennessee, the United States, the World (I'm feeling a flashback from 12th grade English and "Our Town"). This list could get quite long. So tell me, why does my title have to do with whether or not I make money. Or, whether or not I am a mother or wife? I know this is a much debated question about sense of self and worth and all that jazz, and I also know that I may not ever be able to answer it in a satisfactory way.

But, I think I have come up with a new title that encompasses all of the roles I play. The next time someone asks me what I do, I think I will reply, "I am a Lori. It's very demanding work, but quite fulfilling, too." At least that is what I am going to call myself until I hit the best-seller list, and then I'll just call myself a best-selling author. I rather like the ring of that.

*In case you are curious, the reason I do not pack for my husband, even though I am a Lori, is that he does not want me to. I tried to pack for him when we first got married, because I thought it was a "wifey" thing to do. (See story about my mother above.) He thanked me very much and then proceeded to ask me 42 questions about what I had packed and ended up taking everything out and re-doing it himself. Now I just make sure he has clean clothes and put some underwear and undershirts on the bed next to his suitcase and let him pick the rest himself. He is really the most efficient man I know. He can pack for a week in about 10 minutes and not forget anything and have exactly what he needs. I am in awe of his packing prowess. I, on the other hand, take forever, forget highly important things like contact solution or underwear, and am still packing after he has loaded the entire car and is honking outside for me and yelling, "come on!" But, maybe that's because by the time I get ready to pack for myself, I have already packed for three other people and my brain has shut down. Speaking of which, time to go and pack. This time is going to be different!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

You decide

I've been thinking about this post since last week. Yes, originally I was going to post three or four times a week, but life and my three children and more life and minor surgery for my daughter and my nephew coming for a week of rock band camp and football camp for my son and did I mention life? have gotten in the way. So, here I am a week later finally writing this post.

My favorite southern author, Joshilyn Jackson, had a meme on her blog last week. Don't know what a meme is? Neither did I, so I Googled it. I had kind of figured it out from the context -- I'm smart like that -- but wanted to be sure. According to Wikipedia, a meme is basically a question posed and answered by a blogger who asks other bloggers to answer the same question, and it sort of becomes viral from there.

So, here's the question: What famous person do you resemble? Just so you know, I love to play along with these sorts of question/answer games. I fill out all those personal quizzes on Facebook and love to look at friends' answers. However, on this one I am stumped. I know I have been told once or twice that I look like someone famous. I think I remember someone saying Annie Potts. What? But usually it's more along the lines of, "Wow, you look just like my old neighbor." Or, "You look like a girl I knew in high school." You get the picture.

I'm kind of your basic girl-next-door type (yes, technically it's woman, but I still like to think of myself as young). Personally, I think it's kind of hard to judge our own outward appearance without prejudice. I see every pore, line, freckle (which will soon have to be called age spots) extra five or more pounds, stretch marks, under eye bags, etc. on my body. I know that I am not beautiful (although my children tell me I am, God bless their pea-pickin' little hearts!) but I think of myself as attractive. I have good hair (when I take the time to fix it), fairly striking eyes, and a pretty smile. I'm not the kind of girl that turns a lot of heads, but I did manage to catch my husband's eye (and then flirt with him for half a semester from across the room in human sexuality class before he finally asked me out, but that is a blog for another day), and he is quite the catch, if I do say so myself. And you can see both of us for yourself from our picture. Sorry, couldn't find one of me alone. It was either the two of us or me and the kids, so I opted for him. Not sure that I want to put the kiddos on here just yet.

I've read other bloggers who say they are average looking and they think that is why they aren't told they look like someone famous. That makes a lot of sense to me. Most of us aren't Hollywood types. Although there are a lot of character actors out there who aren't either. So, I've been thinking a lot this week on looks and beauty and what makes us look like other people -- is it our features or something more, like maybe our essence? And, what makes a person attractive or unattractive? And why don't any of my children really look like me, since I am the one who carried them in my big, fat, swollen belly for nine months!?! Oops, there goes my stream-of-consciousness thinking again.

Anyway, I've gotten way more involved in this post than I ever expected -- that's what happens when I think on things for a whole week. So, since I don't have a clue what famous person I look like, I'll let you tell me. As I am wont to tell my children, "Be nice!" If you tell me I look like some punk rocker or a man, I will blacklist you from this blog! (Don't know if I can really do that, but I'll figure out something.) Realistically, I'm expecting to hear that I look like an old friend of yours.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My Special Kind of Southern Angst

I was reading book blogs, instead of doing the hundred or so other things I said I would do today, when I came upon a reading contest. For those of you who don't know, I am a voracious reader. I consume books. I read books like I swim: head down, hard as I can go, only coming up now and again for a large breath of air before plunging in again. I love the written word. My eyes are incapable of being still when in the presence of words. I'm the kind of person you will catch reading the back of the cereal box if there is nothing else to read. I understand completely why Jefferson wrote, "I cannot live without books."

Being the competitive person that I am, I also love a contest. I have already earned my book light from the Nashville Public Library Contest this summer and that only took about two weeks. All you had to do was read four books. But this new contest I found is a little different. Not only must you read three books, you must blog about them, too. How exciting! I can combine two of my passions: reading and writing. And better yet, it's not just any fiction. It has to be Southern fiction, because it is a Southern Reading Challenge. Be still my heart! If reading is my passion, reading Southern fiction is my reading heart's greatest joy.

I think my love of Southern fiction was probably born from angst over my Southern identity. I was born in Tampa, Florida and lived about thirty minutes from the city in Valrico. We lived at the end of a dirt road where the Bookmobile would come to visit. Our seven acres were surrounded by 250 acres of pasture and our backyard wandered off into the woods. My brother had a B.B. gun at age 7 and a pellet gun at age 9 or 10 by which time he was proficient hunting small woodland creatures.

My father was born in the mountains of Western, North Carolina. Although he moved to Florida at the age of 11, he remains to this day very much a Southern mountain man. My mother, a Florida native, spent her first years in the country in a little town called Seffner and spent her summers at her grandmother's house in Dothan, Alabama. Although the big city of Tampa was only a half an hour away, we were very much a small-town Southern family.

In 1979 at the age of six, we moved to a little town in East Tennessee called Sulphur Springs, where I was immediately cast as the outsider. One of the things I remember most was a few years after moving there a boy in my class commented on my accent and my home state and came to the conclusion that I was a Yankee. I may have been just young at the time, but I knew what a yankee was and I knew I wasn't one. I was from Florida -- not the North. (I realize that parts of Florida are now merely retirement communities for the Northeast, but not the part I was from in 1979.) I credit that one statement by some long-forgotten boy for the beginning of my Southern identity angst. My mother, who had been made fun of for her country accent when she moved into town as a child, had developed impeccable grammar. My brother and I were always corrected when we spoke with poor grammar in our home. So, here I was the kid with the 'funny' accent using correct grammar in a little school in East Tennessee being called a yankee. I knew it was untrue, but it cut me to the quick. Somehow I was not as Southern as the rest of them.

As I grew older and learned what "Southern" meant to the rest of the country, my angst grew. I lived in the foothills in East Tennessee, not the Delta in Mississippi. I developed a country twang for an accent, not a lovely drawl. I lived in a small house on an acre surrounded by cow fields, not down a long drive flanked with live oaks. I was much more likely to end up at a NASCAR race than at the Kentucky Derby, and the only thing being added to a Coke at my Souhtern Baptist house was ice cubes, not bourbon. I loved growing up in my beloved South, but I just never felt Southern enough.

Fast forward to 1994 at the University of Tennessee, where as a junior I was looking for a good literature class to satisfy my soul, as well as an elective requirement. My sorority sister Renee told me about a class she was taking called Contemporary Southern Fiction. It wasn't on the schedule; you had to have the professor's permission to take it. She recommended I show up and see if he would let me add it. When I walked into the small conference room that first day little did I know that an important part of my life would never be the same.

Dr. Jack Reese, who had served as chancellor of UT for more than 16 years, had stepped down a few years prior to return to the classroom. When you've been chancellor, you pretty much get to run your classroom any way you choose. Just thinking about this man and the fact that he no longer inhabits this earth, brings tears to my eyes. He was dear and lovely and funny and erudite and there will never be another one like him. *drying eyes now*

Needless to say I was honored when Dr. Reese allowed me to join his class. There were 10 or 12 of us who met around a conference table next door to his office. His syllabus was two inches thick and 15 years and several moves later it is sitting in my lap as I type this. We read 12 novels and many essays and short stories that semester, which were broken up into topics imporant in the South. And for every section we covered, we watched a relevant Southern movie. The topics covered were: Coming of Age in the Modern South, Social Classes: Redneck to Aristocrat; Race and Civil Rights; The Southern Woman; A Sense of Family; Politics and Politicians; Religion; King Football and Other Sports; Getting Older; and Southern Music: Country and Blues.

That semester Dr. Reese introduced me to Eudora Welty and Peter Taylor, Kaye Gibbons and Lee Smith, Robert Penn Warren and Harry Crews, Wilma Dykeman and Josephine Humphries, Clyde Edgerton and Earnest Gaines, Walker Percy and Bobbie Ann Mason. But more than that, he introduced me to the beauty that is Southern Literature. This is not to say that I had not read Southern authors before -- of course I had -- but my eyes had not been opened to the genre of Southern Literature and the importantance of "place" in fiction and from what angst Southern literature comes. I had not experienced the many different places in the South from which literature springs. Yes, the South is magnolias and mint juleps and live oaks and such, but it is also mountains and backroads and places that inhabit my childhood and places that I pray to God I, and my children, never have to see.

You want a short story about a Southern family that you will never forget? Read Eudora Welty's "Why I Live at the P.O." You want a Southern gothic novel that will disturb you to the bone? Read Harry Crew's "Feast of Snakes." You want a strong mountain woman who will stir your soul? Read Lee Smith's "Fair and Tender Ladies." Would you like to understand the hold that football has over those of us in the South? Read H.G. Bissinger's "Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, and A Dream." You want to read about a Southern grandmother who reminds you of your own? Read Clyde Edgerton's "Walking Across Egypt." How about a modern-day mother whose plight might hit a little close to home? Read Josephine Humphries, "Dreams of Sleep."

In Jack Reese's Contemporary Southern Fiction class I developed a passion for Southern fiction and the Southern writer that I hope never wains. Oh, I read and re-read Jane Austen and other British authors on a regular basis, as well as bestselling authors and up and coming authors, and even forgettable "Chick Lit" at the beach, but I always come home, back to my South. And I'm always looking for new authors to add to his list. If Dr. Reese were alive and teaching today, I think Joshilyn Jackson would be on his syllabus. She is currently my favorite Southern author and has a voice you need to hear. In fact, I'll probably be blogging about one of her books here. You can expect to read posts about three diffenent Southern authors in the coming month. Hope you will enjoy. I know I will.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

MJ and the madness

I have not watched any of the coverage about Michael Jackson in the past few days, because I have been busy doing real-world things such as camping with the family for four days over the holiday and taking my daughter to have a planned out-patient procedure on Monday. And frankly yesterday I was just so worn out from worrying about her and her recovery, that I could not bear the thought of listening to all the blather.

However, I did hear on the radio yesterday a quote by the Rev. Al Sharpton to MJs kids. He said, "There was nothing weird about your Daddy," and then he said something along the lines of the only thing weird was the stuff he had to deal with or some other such nonsense. I'm thankful I was just pulling out of my driveway, or I may have run off the road. Nothing weird!?!

I find it very irritating that when some people die all of their bad traits/decisions/actions seem to be immediately erased from the collective consciousness and all that is remembered is the "good." This man was a train wreck! Whether the train wreck was his own fault or whether it was caused by his overbearing father and crazy childhood really does not matter. If you look up 'weird' in the dictionary, MJs face would be staring back at you.

Now being the good Southern girl that I am, manners dictate that you do not throw a person under the bus at his own funeral. You say a few "bless his hearts" and everybody gets the picture. Here are just a few examples of what the Rev. Al could have said to MJs kids, "Your father loved you very much," or "Your father was an incredible entertainer," or "Your father was an amazingly talented man who will be missed by many." All of these statements are true and kind about said crazy man.

The ridiculousness of this quote reminds me of another ridiculous quote a friend of mine posted on Facebook. It was from The Tennessean (the Nashville paper) over the weekend about Steve McNair, the former Titan's quarterback who was found shot to death with his mistress. The quote was from a fan who said, "Anyone can get famous. But it takes a genuinely moral person to be a leader." Really? The married father of four was found shot to death WITH HIS 20-YEAR-OLD MISTRESS, and the Tennessean chooses to run a quote that calls him a moral person? My friend wondered if that was really the best quote they could get or had they not interviewed enough people. I'm wondering if they were trying to be ironic.

Don't get me wrong. I think Steve McNair had some amazing qualities. He was very generous to his mother and the Nashville community. He set up a foundation that helped disadvantaged children and also raised a ton of money and supplies for Katrina victims in Mississippi. He was a truly amazing athlete who took us to our only Super Bowl. I am a fan of his and am deeply saddened by his death -- and disappointed by his affair. I know that we all sin and fall short of God's grace, so I am not judging him. However, I think it is painfully obvious now that we do not need to say things like he was a 'moral' leader just because he is gone. That is like saying MJ was not weird just because he is dead. Maybe we should say "if you can't say anything nice -- and true -- after a person's death, don't say anything at all."