Not long ago, two days into the Southern Women Writers Conference at Berry College, I was feeling inspired, excited, and fascinated. I was all fired up to write my heart out when it hit me like a brickbat: I cannot possibly be a Southern Woman Writer. Yes, I’m Southern — for at least 10 generations. I am female. I write a bit. But that’s not being a Southern Woman Writer. I simply am not qualified. Here’s why:
1. I have been loved and cherished since before I was born. My parents planned to have me. My daddy snuck into the hospital nursery to hold me. Utterly, completely loved, with no weird manifestations of same. Well, there is that peculiar thing with my name. You know, they named me one thing, but decided to call me something else. In another family, I might have been Peg or Maggie, short for Margaret Louise; or Kathy Ann, short for Katherine Ann. But no, I’m Myra, short for Eleanor Elmira. I have spent my life explaining how you get Myra out of Eleanor E. I think Mama did that because they kept you in the hospital for two weeks back then, and she simply did not have enough to do. I’m quite certain she was not actively, intentionally contributing to my later-in-life identity crisis. And it is actually a lovely name.
2. No one has ever beaten me, unless you count my red-headed cousin Linda. She has always had a bit of a temper. And I was a bit of a wuss when it came to physical fighting. She still beats me up sometimes, but never with her fists, and usually for my own good. Once, she helped me dye my hair red. I dated my share of jerks, I call it toad-kissing. Other than that, I’ve not been abused or particularly ill-treated. OK, there was that stuff with my first husband, who said some pretty nasty things to me. Now I know he couldn’t help it, on account of his drinking and all. He’s been clean and sober for 25 years now and we made up at our son’s wedding a few years back. Matter of fact, when he apologized and accepted responsibility for his share of our problems (it’s that 12 step thing) it knocked me right off of my high horse. I continue to seek some other source of righteous indignation.
3. While I have abused my share of substances, I have never had a Substance Abuse problem. At least nothing I couldn’t recognize and rein in quickly. And the statute of limitations has long expired on some of those scientific episodes, you know, “experimenting” with drugs, back in college. Now, I do like my Jack Daniels. Neat or with a little ice. Never with Coke. Screws up two good Southern drinks.
4. No one in my family is Crazy. No, I mean Crazy with a capital C. We’ve had the typical Southern experiences, with a couple of low-pressure depressions, scattered showers of meanness, two thunderclaps of suicide, almost 50 years apart. I’ve been on anti-depressants for almost 20 years, but I don’t think it counts as Crazy if the drugs work. Now that I think about it, there are a couple of other things, but I am not quite ready to be estranged from the hundreds — yes, hundreds — of people I’m related to. It’s just that we’ve never had the kind of crazy that creates newspaper stories or makes people not let their children play with you. I did hear that someone tried to talk my husband out of marrying me but never learned the reason exactly.
5. I have never been poor. Broke and unemployed a couple of times, but never poor. I always managed to piece together little jobettes to tide me over. And in a couple of really serious emergencies, Mama and Daddy saved my butt. I have no idea what it’s like to be really poor. This fact is also due to the requirement that you pass a typing test to graduate with a journalism degree from the University of Georgia. At least it was a requirement back then. I could always type, and that saved me a couple of times. We should all be glad that I learned to type instead of teach, which was what they told us to do back then, so we’d have something to “fall back on.”
6. Not for one full day in my life have I ever been hungry, with the exception of a couple of those trick weight-loss programs I’ve tried. Those ads do make it look so easy.
7. I have never had cancer or an abortion or a serious malady that could wreck one’s life. To my possible credit, I have aged a bit from fretting over the possibility of one of those things. And I’ve loved some people through their own life wrecking experiences. But all my screening came back clean, again this year.
8. I have never been estranged from my immediate family, at least not for more than a couple of days while folks got the pouting out of their systems. Although, if my brothers continue their dangerous slide to the political right, we may have some things to deal with. Oh yeah, there is a sister-in-law I haven’t seen since my wedding, but I don’t think that counts because there wasn’t a falling out. She just quit participating. And I have a brother-in-law I’ve seen only three times in the 15 years I’ve been married. I don’t think that counts, either, since there’s no ill will and I talk to him more than his own flesh-and-blood brother does. We actually enjoy it when he’s trying to recruit me for the Christian Coalition and I’m giving him cakes baked especially to turn him into a Democrat.
9. Although my list of “like to have killed” is long enough to insure some serious questioning by St. Peter, I’ve never killed anybody, or even tried. Nobody ever tried to kill me. Never killed anybody from my driving or from my cooking, either. My husband, jamming his foot into the floor on the passenger side of the car, yelling “What are you trying to do? Get us killed!!!” doesn’t really count. That is not at all what I was trying to do.
See, I can never be a Southern Woman Writer. On the other hand, seems I’m getting pretty good at making stuff up … .