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Books, and Yoga Pants, Masks, and Running…(my season of social awkwardness)

If you keep up with my blog, you probably recognize that the titles I use are generally a list of things that seem to have nothing in common. I’m not sure if this tactic works or not in luring the reader in, but hopefully, by the end of my thoughts, the reader discovers how the items in the title are linked—-what the common bond is. And hopefully it is all tied up in a neat and pretty little bow.

I don’t know about you, but in these crazy times, when everything seems to be changing daily, I long for the things I can count on. I enjoy routines. I want to feel like I can depend on (control) most happenings in my world, and it is in those things that I find my comfort.

As far apart as books, yoga pants, masks and running may seem, for me, each of these has provided a sense of stability, inspiration, or protection. And as I have lingered, and milked this pandemic for all it’s worth for far too long, I am looking for the day when things return to normal (whatever that might be). And on that day, when I feel like I am finally able to look the pandemic in the rearview mirror, I will reflect on how ordinary things can exhibit extraordinary powers.

If you’ve ever talked to me in person, you know two things about me.

  1. I love to talk
  2. I have a self-deprecating sense of humor

When I was in first grade, I came out of my shell, and since that time, I have always considered myself a social person. I’m outgoing, fairly confident, and smart enough to carry on intelligent conversations. I think I’m funny, (which isn’t much of an endorsement), and a large part of my humor is self deprecating–I’m critical of myself in a humorous way (and if you look closely at that sentence you will find within it an example of this—-the self-deprecation, not that I’m funny. UGH…there I go again!!!).

Sometimes people misread my personality, and they think I’m serious about my self-criticism. They might wait until we’re alone, or pull me aside, and ask if I’m okay, or tell me that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. While I appreciate their concern, the only thing that actually bothers me is that they don’t understand my humor. C’mon! I think I’m funny!

I’ve often pondered the source of self-deprecation, and generally come up with the same consensus–I’d rather make fun of myself than hurt other people’s feelings. I know I could never, ever be a stand-up comic,  (aside from not being that kind of funny) because many times you must be cruel, or at the very least, point out shortcomings in others. I even struggle with this as a writer. I never want to make someone else feel “less than.”

And that brings me to the first point I want to make in my never-ending quest to discover new lessons in my life.

I’m a careful writer. Many times I sugarcoat situations that I’m recounting, just in case the person I’m writing about might be reading my blog (or even my books).

When I wrote A Southern Girl Re-Belles, I threw caution to the wind, and tried to write in an honest way that would truly reflect my characters…

***PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH…BECAUSE SOMETHING UNEXPECTED OCCURRED AFTER I COMPLETED THIS BLOG, AND I WILL SHARE IT AT THE END…

I have no idea how my book was accepted, because within two months of releasing my book, we entered into the Pandemic of 2020, and life as I knew it changed. Book talks, and signings, and other opportunities to sell my book were canceled. And in addition to all the uncertainty that was thrust upon us, I had the added pressure and worry of what to do with the 150 copies of my book that were stacked in my office (closet).

If you’re like me, you are weary from it all. The quarantine, the masks, the social distancing, the racial unrest, the demonstrations that entail rioting and looting, the cancel culture, and all the unknowns that encompass this truly unprecedented time in our lives.

So, it’s bad enough that a lot of momentum I hoped to have with the release of my novel has been quashed by the virus known as Corona. BUT then there’s also the title of my book…A Southern Girl Re-Belles…

Only I could release a book with that title in such tumultuous times (There’s some of that self-deprecation. Maybe you should make this a drinking game, and each time I use that sort of humor, you take a shot of your favorite spirit).

So, inasmuch as this blog is about the trials, and struggles, and monotony, and atrophy of this never-ending Pandemic, it’s a defense of my book. And it’s a defense of becoming socially awkward, something I never in a million years thought I would become…

The basic theme of my novel, A Southern Girl Re-Belles, is redemption. The main character experiences a horrible tragedy as a teenager. In the years that follow, she makes several poor choices, leading to her estrangement from her family. In the midst of trying to figure her way out of yet another mess, she receives a call from the assisted living facility where her grandmother is currently staying. Abbie must jump to her grandmother’s defense, but in reality, it will be the grandmother who saves Abbie.

I love being an American, a Southerner and a Texan. My ancestors fought in the American Revolution, the Civil War, and also in defense of the Alamo.  I’m completely invested in my heritage, but that doesn’t mean that I think the culture of the South is without blemishes. I know of her sins, and her shortcomings, but I still love her. The South is my home, and because of all the events that have occurred, I am here. Had even one thing in the past not happened, or changed, I might not be here. I think that is something all of us should remember.

Yes, we need to make many improvements throughout our country. We need to be more tolerant, empathetic, respectful, and inclusive. But we should never, ever forget our past, or “cancel” it. We must, however, learn from it.

The South is made up of beautiful places and people. We take great pride in our towns, and states, and our nation. We adore saying “Y’all,” and “Bless your heart,” and do so with a melodious twang that is unmatched in any other region of our country, or the world, for that matter.

Time seems to pass more slowly here. There’s more room. Things are more spread out, less congested. The South is a place where there are churches on every corner. Revivals and “Dinner on the grounds” after church is a way of life, and potato salad a staple.

It’s fishing poles, and wading in the water of creeks, or swimming in lakes and ponds. It’s old dirt roads, and going barefooted, and catching fireflies after dark. It’s crickets chirping, and cicadas buzzing, and frogs croaking as they join in the chorus.

It’s Coca-Cola, and Dr. Pepper, and Whataburger. It’s Friday night football, and Saturdays in the SEC and Big 12.

There are people who have a deep disdain for the South and our way of life. Some people hate us, and make fun of the people who live here. We are blamed for our tragic past. Our accents are mocked, and we are made out to be dumb, or illiterate, and worst of all, racist.

An example of this was illustrated in an episode of “Designing Women,” when Julia Sugarbaker said this to a reporter from the New York Times who claimed Southerners eat dirt as a source for vitamins:

“I have been a Southerner all my life, and I can vouch for the fact the we do eat a lot of things down here. We’ve certainly all had our share of grits and I’m sure there are no self-respecting Southerners anywhere who haven’t consumed at least several tons of their mama’s homemade biscuits and gravy, and I myself have probably eaten enough fried chicken to feed a third world country, not to mention barbecue, cornbread, watermelon, fried pies, okra, and, yes, if I were being perfectly candid, I would have to admit we have also eaten our share of crow. And for all I know, during the darkest, leanest years of the Civil War, some of us may have had a Yankee or two for breakfast. But, speaking for myself and hundreds of thousands of my Southern ancestors who have evolved through the many decades of poverty, strife, and turmoil, I would like for Mr. Weaks to know that we have surely eaten many things in the past, and we will surely eat many things in the future, but—God as my witness —we have never, I repeat, never eaten dirt!”

I keep an arrangement of stalks/stems of cotton in my guest bathroom. Some may find this offensive, but to me it serves as a vestige of my heritage. You see, my mother grew up on a farm, and as a very young child she began picking cotton. It’s a daily reminder to me that I am one generation away from performing that type of labor…

The major plot of my novel, A Southern Girl Re-Belles, deals with two generations of Southern women learning to accept each other and find a middle ground. Through this process, each of them gives up some of their preconceived notions, ideas, and traditions.

In the sense of the book, “Re-Belle” means to go back to one’s family and heritage. It has nothing to do with the antebellum South, or strife between races. I thought it was a clever play on words…

One of my favorite characters in the book is a black man names Miles Jenkins. I patterned him after the babysitter/housekeeper we had growing up. Lovis was like a family member and I adored her. She taught me so many lessons, and loved me in such a special way. Just like Lovis, Miles Jenkins gives some pivotal advice to Abbie. In a way, he is the only person who reaches out to her in her time of crisis.

I love this book, and I’m so proud of it! I’m not saying it’s a great literary work in everyone’s eyes, but it is a part of me, a part of who I am. When you give birth to characters, you become extremely protective of them–they are family and I can honestly say, these characters are an extension of my soul.

I’m hesitant to admit this, but I’m somewhat afraid to push the sale of this book. I know in my heart of hearts that there is nothing offensive in it (except maybe Abbie’s attitude and language), but I fear someone may twist my words or misinterpret my intentions.

And I hate that I’m scared. I hate that we live in a time where people are afraid to speak up and fear they will be attacked if their views or perspectives are different than those around them. And I hate that I’m not confident enough to defend my book–the thing that I poured my heart and soul into for a couple of years.

This isn’t who I am. I firmly believe this lack of confidence and insecurity stems from this quarantine. From being isolated. From lacking in social situations and interactions. It comes from dressing in my quarantine uniform of yoga pants, a t-shirt, and running shoes. From going without makeup, and putting my hair in a ponytail. From sitting around watching game shows, and binge-watching series on Netflix, Prime, and Hulu. From rarely talking to others, except through texts or emails. It comes from living inside of myself and my thoughts and my fears. From using my mask, not only as a source of protecting others from the virus, but as a protection from any kind of public social exchange or conversation. I completely support mask-wearing, but masks, like many aspects of the pandemic, will have long-term ramifications in how we communicate, and interact with each other.

It comes from the day-in-day-out complacency that has become a form of security that has kept me from becoming the best version of myself.

During the early days of the pandemic, our neighborhood social committee scheduled a series of food trucks that came once or twice a week. The idea was to break up the monotony of the days, support local vendors, and socialize (in the appropriate amount of distance).

My husband and I ventured down the night they had a BBQ truck (most of the trucks which came had foods made with gluten, which counted me out). As we were waiting in line, standing on the “X” that was 6 feet away from the next person, several people walked up and introduced themselves. We made small talk about where we live, and what we do, and then the question was asked, “When did you move to the neighborhood?” We didn’t realize until we responded with “1999,” that many in the group thought we were newcomers. The shock on the neighbors’ faces was epic. One man stated, “Well, I guess you don’t get out of your house very much!”

What in the cornbread hell???? Seriously, I guarantee we have lived in the neighborhood longer than any of the people who were standing on the other “X-es.” We have seen families come and go. When our children were young, we were very involved in neighborhood activities and gatherings, but our kids grew up and our priorities changed. Yes! We leave our house! We go to work! To make a difference! To change lives! To go to Whataburger!

I confess, I’m not the best at meeting new people when they move in. I will use work as my main excuse, but to be honest, I haven’t wanted to put myself out there. Our lives are busy, and full, and it’s just easier to keep to ourselves, a fact that I’m not proud of.

I have made more of an effort in the last few years, by baking pies or cakes, and extending some sort of welcome when new people arrive. We are friends with one of our next door neighbors, but it may or may not be true that I had to use every detective skill that I have honed over the years to figure out the names of a set of neighbors with whom we visit all the time.  The appropriate amount of time for asking their names had long since passed, and this awkwardness had gone on far too long. I finally cracked the case two days ago, and feel pretty sassy about it!

There was a time when I was much more outgoing and was somewhat of a joiner, but not anymore. I’m tired and basically don’t have much time for the friends we do have. And if I was ever going to work on this, and try to get more involved, this pandemic has killed any motivation I might have once had. Right now, I’m just trying to pull myself together enough to be presentable, and able to function when we start school. I haven’t worked since March 4th! And it shows. I’m awkward, and need to figure out how to get my groove back.

So in my journey to pull myself together, I’ve begun running (again). I know some of you are doing an “eye roll,” because you’ve heard all this before. BUT this time, I think it’s going to stick. I’m not committing to a program on an app. I just informed myself that I was going to run one morning and I did. I use my Apple watch to track my distance/time. And I found the best little route. I have graduated from running on my driveway with a flashlight at the crack of dawn, to actually going out on the road, in daylight!

However, I do go to an out-of-the-way-cove, where traffic is scarce, and there are more woods than houses. The other day as I was setting out, I saw a man walking his dog (this is the man that pointed his finger and shook it at me as I was driving by one morning. It wasn’t my fault that his dog wasn’t on a leash and almost ran out in front of my car). Anyway, the finger-shaking man was walking his golden retriever, and he headed down my running path! UGH. So I bent over and acted like I was tying my shoe and let him pass by. I had to wait 10 minutes for him to come back around, and then I began my run.

Why am I saying all this? I guess because I feel like maybe I’m not alone. Maybe we’ve all lost a little confidence. Maybe we’ve all become a little uneasy in certain situations. We’ve been cooped up for so long, we’ve formed our own little routines, and live in our own little worlds. And now, as we begin to open up, we are going to have to re-learn how to behave socially.

In my line of work, I think about how the students are going to feel! We are going to have to be more understanding, and caring and nurturing. All while wearing a mask which hides half our face. A mask that makes it difficult to know if someone is smiling our scowling. We live in a world that is hurting, and uncertain. But at some point we have to jump right in. We must move forward and help others adapt, accept, and excel. We must be kind and empathetic, and through our own awkwardness help others to move forward.

As I sit here typing while clothed in my black yoga pants, and t-shirt, with my hair in a ponytail, I am going to take the first step in recapturing the audacity I once had. I’m going to ask you, my readers, for a favor.

If you have read my book, A Southern Girl Re-Belles, and you liked it, I hope you will write a review of it on Amazon. I know that sounds self-serving, but I need to re-generate some buzz and excitement around the book (and I had a couple of negative reviews that simply weren’t fair! Don’t review a book you don’t even finish!) And in all honesty, I’m not just asking for “GOOD” reviews. I just want ones that are fair. If a lot of people review my book within a short time-frame, it gets Amazon’s attention.

To do a review on Amazon, you simply enter the title of the book in the Amazon search bar, and then click on the version of the book you read (paperback), and scroll down and you will see the “stars” or ratings on the left-hand side of the page. Under the “stars” there is a box that says “Write a customer review.” Click on that to begin.

If you haven’t read the book, I ask that you give it a try. You may order it on Amazon, or email me at sharonbrownkeith@gmail.com and request a copy. (If you choose this method we will work out all the details then).

I appreciate your help, encouragement, and support more than you will know. I’ve been in a rut. Stuck. Not knowing how to move forward. Not knowing what to say or do. Questioning if I should continue my blog, podcast, and even if I should continue this dream of writing a sequel to A Southern Girl Re-Belles.

I’ve realized I can’t do it alone. I need the help of friends and readers. And in these days that are unfamiliar, and scary, and weird, and awkward, I’m not afraid to ask you to hold my hand. To help me find my lost confidence. To get me moving again.

Please know, I’m here for you too. And as we awkwardly move ahead, it is my prayer that we are kind, and gentle, and aware of all those around us who are experiencing these same feelings of fear, and timidity, as they too, walk, or possibly stumble, out of their comfort zone.

We’ve never needed each other more than we do now. Let’s be awkward together.

************************************************************************************************************************

UPDATE:

I COMPLETED THIS BLOG Monday morning before 8:00. And something happened at 9:34 that blessed me in immeasurable ways. I’m adding my account of the experience here, because I want to keep what happened after I finished my blog separate so you will see, as did I, that is was a blessing. I want you to witness for yourself that just when you count yourself out, God provides a way. He will use a thought, an experience, a song, a book, a vision, a dream. And today, He used a lifelong friend.

I don’t see this friend often. In fact, I’ve seen her twice since graduating from High School. But today, she reached out to me about my book. She asked me to give her a call. And feeling socially awkward, I was afraid I would sound like a blithering idiot.

But once I heard her sweet voice on the other end of the line, my fears were gone and were replaced with the warmth that comes when chatting with a childhood friend.

My friend shared some very personal things in her life that are related to A Southern Girl Re-Belles. And as she shared these things, I was speechless. I think we talked for close to an hour, and laughed and cried together. For inasmuch as she was blessed by my book, I was blessed by her words, and the connection we both experienced with her as the reader, and me as the writer, were amazing. Truly, only something that God could orchestrate.

I’m not sure if the sole reason (on my end) for this special, sweet, conversation was a reminder to not give up on my book, or simply a reminder that in the midst of uncertainty, God always provides a way.

I’ve always said, if one person is blessed by my writing, that’s all that matters. So thank you, my sweet friend, for giving me this reminder.

My heart is full, and my cup runneth over…

I’d like to close with the song that played such an important role in A Southern Girl Re-Belles.

And again, I’m thankful that a song I heard in 2001, not only connected a story I was writing, but also continues to connect me with others in ways that are too powerful to explain or even comprehend.

 

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