Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Are You Afraid?

Really, all things considered, its best that my middle name isn't adventure.  Not living up to one's own name would be such an awful let down, after all.  For the outsider, realizing that I'm not naturally gung-ho might be a bit shocking, since I've sampled quite a wide swath of life in my 30ish years atop the twirling globe.

Despite my frustrations with and sometime disgust for, Sigmund and the Psycho(Analyst) Bunch, I think they got it right when it comes to fear. Childhood is the usual petri dish that brings forth our later inexplicable terror of unrelated items like the ocean, airplanes and inflatable boats.  Yes, I said dinghies. 

Rubber rafts, inflatable rowboat, dinghy, no matter its name, I'm not a fan.  In the early years of the 1980s, when I was still a solitary child in a world of adults, my Mama, Mema and Papa took me to the Gulf Coast for a week of surf and sand and most likely, sunburn.  With delightful intentions my Papa purchased for my amusement a small raft that could be rowed out beyond the surf zone.  Early in the visit, early in the morning, Mema, Papa and I headed out, raft in tow, to launch ourselves into the great blue yonder.

Despite being a remarkably intelligent, mechanically oriented man, my Papa seriously miscalculated the physics of getting my little 30 pound self, Mema and himself safely aboard our vessel.  I'm sure the formula is weight X distance X frequency / seaweed squared - Aqua-net.  His math may have been a tad off, or Mema had forgotten her hairspray that day, but ultimately all I got was slammed into the sandy beach by a rogue wave.  Bad enough that the red mark stung for the rest of the trip, poor Papa was so upset he took that dinghy back home and gave it to some random guy for his kids to use as a kiddie pool. I don't doubt that a part of him seriously considered dinghycide.

I developed a fear of the ocean, or more specifically whats in it, after I saw Jaws on late night satellite at a friend's house sometime around the tender age of 8. No, my mother didn't know and no, she wouldn't have been okay with that.  Late night satellite TV in the 1980s was actually a treasure trove of adult knowledge that hastened my learning along quicker than my mama realized. Maybe it still is, or maybe the high tech craze just lets little tykes download that stuff right to their very own mobile devices. Isn't progress grand?

Anyway, so there I am in 1989ish, a cemented fear of inflatables, nursing a growing obsession with sharks, and contemplating what infinity actually means.  (For the record I don't recommend that last activity, at any age, as its bound to lead to a hankering for strong drink and mournful country songs. Trust me.)  My next fear acquisition would be of my own making, persistent and frankly, the largest impediment to a normal 21st century style life. I'm talking, of course, about my fear of flying.

No doubt it comes as quite a shock to y'all that I was a tad precocious in my youth and tended to read several grade levels ahead of schedule. I pilfered anything and everything off my Mama's bookshelf, secreting them back to their spots before she could notice. One of these illicit novels, Judith Michaels maybe, featured a heroine who becomes a pilot at a young age, and I was smitten.  Flying would be my thing, my adventure, my skill. Unfortunately, I also chose that time to start reading Lewis Grizzard while visiting my summer home (Mema and Papa in Atlanta that is).

Lewis Grizzard was my very first literary hero. He was from Georgia (like me!), loved baseball (like me!) and loved to put pen to paper (totally like me!).  I tore through every book of his I could get my hands on.  All would have been fine had I simply not picked up on one of the prevailing themes of his work : flying terrified him.  The specifics he shared gave way to my own dread of the aeroplane; a dread that only became cemented as time went by without my experiencing flight.

Now, I have flown and I will continue to do so, but no amount of nerve pills have been able to stop the vapors from sneaking up on me at 37,000 feet. No, I've had to combat my terror using the one thing that's ever had the power to change my mind: the printed word. 

The more I fly, the more aeronautical info I digest.  Going zip-lining? Better check out those accident stats.  Headed out to SCUBA, sail, rock climb, spelunk, whitewater kayak, or ride the Chicago El?  My info cup runneth over. Ultimately, Google saved my life. For some ignorance is bliss, but not me. The more I know about how the airplane stays up, the less likely I live in terror of it coming down. Additional knowledge about triple and quadruple safety features on elevators just makes me willing to head up the Sears Tower. 

Eventually my fear of sharks and planes, serial killers and snakes in a toilet will all be a memory, but no way am I gettin' in that damn rubber boat again. And handily, I won't really fit in one anymore anyway.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Fat is the New Black

I am not fat. Oh no.  Down south, I'm plump, out of shape, big-boned, solid and (my favorite) well-fed.  Clinicians refer to this condition as obesity, which just sounds rude and is evidently an epidemic. Advertising execs opt for a more neutral tone with plus-size, women's (so if you're skinny, you clearly aren't a real woman) and queen sized.  I've always thought I was Candis; descendant of some people that tended to run on the large side of life, and a sizable minority of people that tend toward litheness. 

In my lifetime I've learned the secret to why I (and the other pandemic of obeseites) are the way we are.  It's because we're lazy and stupid, at least according to pop culture. One person, a relative by marriage, not blood (thank the Lord), told me that fat people lack discipline.  Researchers have, at various times, said obesity is caused by: pasta, eggs, fat content, lack of exercise, red meat, fried foods, butter, cheese, and soda.  Newer studies have suggested it is diet soda, an evolutionary response to modern food sources, a food addiction, a virus and the BPA content of canned foods and water bottles that causes weight challenges.

Considering the millions of people that struggle with weight, I'm sure there are a million reasons.  Here are mine: I truly am big-boned, with a shoulder measurement that some high school linebackers would like to have.  I have huge feet, too (sorry, I'm married) for what its worth.  My diet has yo-yoed with the best of them.  When I was young and unaware of the wider world, I ate what Mama made, tons of vegetables, cornbread and chicken, and spent hours on my bike, trampoline or in the pool.  I was still solid.  Middle school found me on Slim-Fast, which strangely enough made me feel like I was starving constantly and caused me to gain 5 pounds.  Then there was high school, when at my insistence, Mama took me to a nutritionist who instructed me to eat no more than 900 calories a day. I did, faithfully, enduring chronic hunger and migraines, until the day when I developed an unstoppable nosebleed that required a doctor to pack my nose. That was the end of that.

In my 20s I became very active, spending my time kayaking, canoeing, swimming, hiking, even caving and rock climbing. I also ate like a very hungry horse. All the time. I lost around 55 pounds and was very close to ripped. That upside down heart on your calf? I had that.  This lasted a while before I headed off to Alabama and moved in with my now spouse.  They say love makes you plump; I say love can double the fun pretty fast. So now I'm 30, and 50 pounds heavier than I was in high school, almost 90 more than I was at 25. 

What's the point?  Healthy people come in all shapes and sizes, for one. I have a 50 year old friend who competes in triathlons, but will never stop being a "big" woman.  I have family members that have never been more than 10 pounds or so above "perfect" weight and take blood pressure and cholesterol medicine.  I've got perfect clinical numbers, despite my weight putting me in "grave danger." 

The South tends to produce obese folks at a higher rate than a lot of regions. Plenty of people would assume that this is because we're lazy and stupid, which of course just makes them lazy and stupid.  We live in a region where nothing says "I love you" like food, in a region where poverty has been taking a toll (especially on minorities) for approximately 150 years, and where more and more convenience, processed food is taking the place of technical know-how in the kitchen. This is clearly a perfect storm, a complex event, something to address with creative, realistic solutions. What the "obesity epidemic" is not: an opportunity for ridicule, patronization, and condemnation.  It is not the forum to assume you know everything about someone based on the size of their shirt. 

Dr. Oz, who I rarely read, wrote in an O Magazine  article last year that one of the myths of health is that you must be a certain BMI or weight.  Not true, he says. The real deal? Everyone should eat the healthiest food they can, like lean meat, whole grains and fruits/vegetables; get plenty of exercise; let your body find your perfect weight. Common sense is often missing from the great weight debate, but this is it and I couldn't agree more.

 For years I've listened to people comment on my size, my sister's size, my spouse's size; to be real honest: I'm done with that. To the person who once made a comment about  a dress ordered in a size that was too small  ("it's an opportunity to lose weight"), the one who commented on the fattiness of fried food while staring at me ("that'll make you obese"), the one who feigns concern ("I'm worried about your health") and the one of has spent years calling herself fat despite being half my size : Be on notice. This is your only warning.  I'm a nice person, but if you continue with the comments both overt and passive-aggressive, I'll have no choice but to bless your heart just before I make you cry. Try me.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Parade Route of My Life

People sure love to parade.  They like to watch them, be in them, read about em and listen to the marching bands play from blocks away. There's something awfully fun about a bunch of folks getting together to celebrate, almost anything, and go walking down a street.  Being a person, I love to parade, too, though it must be acknowledged that my parade history has been fraught with both excitement and a little disaster, at times. 

My earliest parade memory stems from 1984ish, when my Mama and Mema took me to watch the Pecan Festival Parade in Albany, GA.  Chief Knock-a-Homa was scheduled to be the Grand Marshal and my all-time favorite Atlanta Brave, Dale Murphy, was said to be making an appearance.  Like plenty of small Southerners, I was a Braves fan through the rotten years, which, truthfully, was the beginning third of my life.

Excited is not a strong enough word to describe my level of energy for this Pecan Festival parade, as I longed to see the Chief with my own two eyes, but destiny sent us down a detour path.  Somehow, somewhere, between Mema's house and the parade route, I managed to be attacked by fire ants.  Unfortunately, this was not the first time and to add further misery, I was a tad allergic to them.  Most people I know get a small bump when they get stung, but I always developed these quarter sized lumps.  No doubt if I had been coming of age in the 90s or 00s, they would've kitted my family out with all the Epi-Pens they could carry.

But there I was, 4 years old, tore up by fireants, and sick over the thought of missing my Braves at the parade.  As usual Mema saved the day, making a mad dash into a downtown pharmacy, finding the little green Camphophenique bottle that meant sweet relief, and managing to get me all doctored up in time to see the Chief, catch some candy and ogle at the (perceived) millions of folks in Albany.

Just a few years later, maybe 1988, while in attendance at the Worth County Peanut Festival parade, I managed to have yet another, shall we say, memorable experience. This was a classic small town parade, with candy raining down on the crowd like tiny shrapnel and plenty of bass from the drum line.  The very last float, a bit of an homage to the hillbilly type folks, had an animated dog that lifted his leg every few seconds, causing quite the laughing fits among my little group of attendees.  Approaching slowly, the float moved into my peripheral vision, just as the dog lifted his leg, and peed all over my face. Astonished would be too kind of a word. I was infuriated and not a little embarrassed, despite realizing that it was just a little water, and a little prank.  In following years, I stood well back from that float, determined never to be that kid again.

As a perk of being in 4-H in a small town, I got the privilege of being in a parade or two during the early 90s. I'd never realized that being on the float, a momentary (if cosmically insignificant) star, would be exponentially more enjoyable than watching a parade. Riding on a truck bed covered in crepe paper and farm animal cutouts, being cheered by a whole county, remains high on my list of all time greatest things. 

Leaving small town life in 92 and heading off to the big city (that'd be Atlanta), put my parading on  hold for a bit. I'm sure we went to the occasional celebration, but I didn't get to participate again til 97, when I drove the float for my Y-Club.  Truth be told, driving in a parade ain't that much fun, although I'm sure the Shriners with the tiny cars would disagree.

Throughout my early twenties I attended Christmas parades in North Georgia, watched Thanksgiving parades on TV and even traveled down to Savannah, GA to see the spectacle of St Patrick's Day, celebrated by actual Irish folks.  I stood with my Dad, in what passed for cold weather in Montgomery, AL, to watch a Christmas parade, which was made ten times better by the Mayfield people handing out ice cream sandwiches. That's something worth catching.  Despite my love of festivity, in all its guises, I yearned to be in a parade and eventually, I got my chance.

One of my best friends in this world hails from a parading family in Pensacola, FL.  Down there they celebrate Mardi Gras , with actual Krewes and everything. My first Mardi Gras parade was a revelation (you can read about it here: http://paradepeople.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/a-first-time-for-everything/), creating an instant addict. 

Since 2007, I've watched dozens of hours of parading, floated in ten or so, and joined a Krewe myself.  Riding along on a bouncing float, music  blasting, drinking a cocktail while making it rain with beads, moonpies, stuffed animals and more, is one of the best experiences of my life. Unfortunately, there's been some collateral damage and I'd like to take a moment to remember those that've fallen: the old man I hit in the face with a Double Decker Chocolate Moon Pie; the little kid who got a face full of beads; the snowbirds who were standing way back and looking away when the bouncy balls took em out; and lastly, the woman who begged for the tomahawk, only to have me go all Native American on her, and got it right in the forehead.  Just know that your sacrifices have not been in vain; you've made parading possible with this noble gift of yourself; well, mostly of your face.

So continues my love affair with a sprawling celebration, particularly if it involves music, costumes and sweets. In just a few short weeks, you'll once again find me drifting through historic Pensacola, dressed in a shiny tutu and feather boa, having the time of my life. Come on out: I'll throw ya something good.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

These are Uncivilized Times

Manners separate us from the animals. Some have speculated that it is our ability to accessorize (Steel Magnolias), some that it is our ability to dance (Pride and Prejudice), but face it: manners mark our culture as civil or otherwise.  Maintaining our standards of actions towards others allows us to move freely through the world, without sparking a riot.

In the land where I hail from women with good manners are often referred to as "belles" which is fine, despite the reality that many of them are rough and tumble, tomboy sorts who lack the alluring femininity that "belle" conjures up.  Men typically are called gentlemen when they know enough to behave in public, which again, is something of a misnomer as there are scads of Southern gentlemen who are certainly not gentle in their appearance or upon initial meeting.

Florence King, a fellow Southerner and writer I occasionally read, once wrote something to the effect that ladies and gentlemen are people who use their manners to keep others from feeling uncomfortable.  I couldn't agree more. It matters not if you're high or low born, charging down the hill to 80 or up it to 30, truly if you use your Mama-handed-down maxims to save other peoples' feelings, you are to be commended.

At various times in my life I have confused this civility with being a doormat, have mistakenly believed that if I wasn't in someone's face I was being a coward, wallflower or worse, a follower.  As I've matured I've come to the realization that, shockingly, I was wrong. Turns out I can passionately state and defend a position without making someone else cry. I can draw attention to modern problems without insulting someone's intelligence. I can even, occasionally, refrain from lecturing the poor people of lesser intellect that infest my daily world.

My Mama told me that ladies do not smoke, eat or drink while walking down the street.  I only smoke cigars, always seated, and do most of my illicit eating and drinking in a car, like most Americans.  The one exception I make is at festivals or parades when I will walk around swilling whatever's being poured and eatin Jell-o shots, but at those moments, since everyone else is too intoxicated to notice my lapse in grace, I figure it matters not.

Mama also said, as did her Mama, and I'm assuming hers as well, that ladies cross their legs at the ankle, not the knee, lest the world form inappropriate assumptions about your private life.  It makes me cringe to see younger women violating this rule, but I have hope that with the ascension of the Duchess of Cambridge, perhaps they'll imitate celebrity in an appropriate way going forward.  I personally circumvent this Mama-maxim by wearing pants (a lot) and sitting like a gentleman, with my knee on my ankle.  This is mostly due to a love affair between myself and food, which doesn't allow the slutty knee crossing, but also the love affair of my parents, which resulted in my legs being so short that crossing them at the ankle makes my feet dangle like a kindergartners' in church.

The women who raised me had a whole slew of rules regarding bodily functions, as you might expect.  I never once heard any of them, or any of the men in my life do things that cruder humans find so funny on cable TV.  This one I take to heart, believing that intestinal gas is something best kept to yourself at all times.

Just a year or so ago I was mortified to violate this rule for the first time in public.  Sitting in a sterile exam room, a gastroenterologist snaked a camera down my throat in attempt to discern why I was having trouble swallowing.  I was in a bit of a twilight fog, though it couldn't have been heavy enough, when he removed the camera and to my lasting shame, was treated to an enormous belch to the face.  Automatically, as my cheeks flamed, like any good belle, I followed that expulsion with "Oh, my goodness.  I am so sorry". 

Despite obviously not hailing from my part of the woods, he was a gentleman too, as he assured me that it was of no consequence, and mercifully, thoughtfully, signaled to the nurse to increase my meds, pushing me deeper into the fog where I couldn't be haunted by my very serious show of bad manners. Mama would have approved.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Zac Brown Gave Me Conjunctivitis

Zac Brown, I'm so mad at you.  Being a grown, capable type person usually means I can drive to work, listen to music and prepare myself for the day.  Yesterday was, evidently, a horse of a different color altogether. 

There I was in my Jeep, minding my own business, when your heartfelt crooning about our shared home invaded my awareness. You sang about pine trees, pecan (that's PEE-CAN, say it with me) pie, peaches, and fried chicken. You invoked the mystical whispering pines. You even had the audacity to mention Mama.

Out of nowhere I felt this, well, feeling.  It was strange, an odd sort of feeling, one that I'm not really used to.  My chest felt funny enough, that I thought for a minute about swearing off bacon for awhile.  But then my eyes started foggin up, even though it wasn't raining. The smile I had been wearing just moments earlier slid off my face and crashed on the floorboard.

Luckily, the stereo has an off-switch, which I utilized as soon as I realized the severity of the situation. Zac Brown, you made me cry.  If you know me at all, which Zac, I realize you don't, you know that crying is one of those activities I believe was intended for babies, old people and perhaps people in car accidents. Healthy adults should usually reserve such a thing for private time, in their homes, preferably in their bathrooms, with the door locked.

I eventually managed to get myself together, head into the office and do a little work.  Then just a few hours later, while pecking diligently at my computer, I noticed my eyes were doin that thing again.  And no, I was under the influence of no music.  I waited for it to clear up, but when it failed to do so I took myself down to the Minute Clinic, as it is my belief that eyes do not normally fog up and weep for no good reason.

At the clinic the helpful NP confirmed what I had begun to suspect: conjunctivitis.  Which, for me at least, was a relief.  Here I thought Zac Brown had managed to turn me into a weepy, emotional person with no better manners than to cry in public. How soothing to realize that it was only a highly contagious virus in my eye.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Let Me Call You Sweetheart

When you find yourself a brand new parent, it's easy to become overwhelmed by emotion and forget the important tasks at hand. Namely, what the hell are we gonna call this thing?  I found myself in that particular boat almost a year ago when we had a 3 pound shivering, underfed Chihuahua dumped, pretty much literally, in our arms.

We were told his name was Paco, but he didn't seem to be aware of that.  We attempted to rechristen him with several other Latin names, only to be met with blank stares or sometimes, like in the case of the misguided "Nacho" attempt, nothing at all. Two frustrating weeks of this had us pulling out our hair as we searched for the moniker that our lil man would be proud to carry around.

Literary names, think Fitzwilliam and Rhett, were considered and quickly discarded, as were the more obvious Killer and Butch.  Then out of the blue, it hit me: why not call him the name that it seems half the Southern men alive or dead have answered to?  And so our tiny Chihuahua became Bubba, a name he greeted with enthusiastic tail-wagging and plenty of face-licking.

So much has been written about the Southern tendency for naming people in certain ways. We love double names, things that end in Sue or Rae or Joe and most of all things that can be twisted into some interesting alternative. I would know, considering that I have not one or two, but four separate names. 

As a small baby they named me Candis, a family name held in much esteem as it had been passed down from my great-great-grandmother, a reported full-blood Cherokee princess. As much as they all loved the name, almost immediately it was decided to call me Dee Dee, despite my birth certificate saying otherwise. To be fair my middle name is D'Anne, to honor my father and his father (we share the middle D) and from this they created the Dee, which became Dee Dee.

Dee Dee suited me fine until one day, somewhere around 1987, when some bitchy girl at day care called me "Doo Doo".  Clearly, I could answer to this name no longer in the public arena. And so I declared myself to be Candis, as was legally my right, and had all things official, like my yearbook photo, labeled as such from that day forward. My family disregarded this request as a "phase" and have proceeded to call me Dee Dee without pause for 32 years.

Although my public nickname was the double Dee, I also had the pleasure of a family-only name.  My Papa, one of the great loves of my life, had early on forged his own path, calling me Doodlebug. It was his pet name for me, the oldest and for a while, geographically at least, the only grandchild.  I happily answered to that until the last time it passed his lips, just months before he left us.

With three possible nomenclatures to refer to myself, one would think all possibilities had been covered, but no, not quite. We moved to a small  farm in Worth County, GA when I was 8ish. There I learned to navigate in a rural community and blended family. One cousin by marriage, part of that new branch of relatives, accidentally gave me my final nickname.

As my entire family called me Dee Dee, to my frustration at the time, my baby sister took it upon herself to rebel and call me by my given name. The first time our cousin heard her say "Candis", he became confused, or potentially deaf, and heard "Cactus." This he happily called me, repeatedly, for roughly a week before anyone realized the mistake. When it was finally discovered,  he burned tomato red as the whole family shared one hell of a laugh at his misunderstanding.

Cactus stuck, ha ha, and became a common form of address in the family. In my teen years, I went public with the unusual moniker by declaring my camp name to be Cactus: she who is prickly, but soft on the inside. Everyone has always agreed that it suits me more than anyone would've imagined.

All these years later, all these names later, I'm still Candis D'Anne to the public world, but Dee Dee to my Mama and (usually) my Daddy. I'm always going to be Cactus to my camp family; its been 7 years since my last camp season, but if you yell it in Wal-mart, I'm gonna turn around.  Nobody calls me Doodlebug anymore, which makes me sad, though truth be told, it wouldn't mean the same coming out of anyone else's mouth.

Names can impart dignity or strength, beauty or intelligence.  They can emphasize our uniqueness or pay homage to the past. New parents should consider all of that as they struggle with the naming question. Just remember that ultimately, what you put on the documents matters a whole lot less than what you end up actually calling it.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Life as an Ex-Pat

I jokingly refer to myself as an ex-pat, despite the fact that to the unaware mind, I still reside in the country of my birth. A native Georgian, 6th or so generation, raised in the magical land of pines, moss and moonlight, I am currently a traveler on extended stay in a foreign land known as the Midwest.

Up until this fall I technically still lived in the metropolis of Louisville, Kentucky, a Southern city by map lines, if not by personality. Evidently Louisville successfully and stealthily seceded from the South some years ago and has been steadily practicing its twang and brusque mannerisms ever since. Kentucky is a Southern state, but Louisville remains its own little principality here on the banks of the Ohio.

We recently moved across the mighty brown Ohio River to the land of the crossroads. As one friend put it "Indiana is called the crossroads to everywhere, because it is the middle of nowhere."  While the change from Louisville to the Southern Indiana village I now call home was a journey of less than 10 miles, the distance in my head looms large. I am officially "up north", something I once thought would involve living in NYC for a few years while I partied with the literati in SoHo lofts.

For better or worse, here I am and here I will stay for the foreseeable future. Of course if the Mayans turn out to have possessed second sight, this will all be a moot point rather shortly. No doubt my heaven will involve pecan trees, a screened porch and the smell of gardenia.  Perhaps I'll be able to eat all the fried chicken I want, washing it down with a mixture of my mama's tea and some fine KY bourbon, which incidentally is my second favorite thing to come out of KY. The list may only be two items long, but second place ain't bad.

On a recent trip home, meant to assuage my seemingly incurable homesickness, I happened across Atlanta magazine featuring a cover story that shouted for my attention.  "How Southern Are We? And Do We Really Care?" or something of that nature. It's a valid pair of questions, as Atlanta has always, always been a new city, a work in progress that turns its nose up at the uppity coastal dames. As a major US city, home to a huge foreign born population, could Atlanta still be Southern?

I have no answers for the general population, only for myself. We may be a new breed of Southern, but we're still that society working hard to be friendly, hospitable, and a little more gracious than our Midwestern and Northern neighbors. Does it matter? I have no idea and really don't give a damn. It matters to me, my Mama and my Daddy. That's enough.

In a gift shop somewhere off I-65 in northern Alabama I once spotted a wonderful pink shirt that proudly proclaimed "American by birth. Southern by the grace of  God." My companion on the trip thought I was kidding when I began digging through the pile seeking a version that could accommodate my food loving self, until I spied one, declared victory and headed to the cash register. I'd like to say that I now own that delightfully tacky piece of Southern chic, but alas, my steadfast friend managed to wrest it from my grasp and tell me in no uncertain terms, that I would not be leaving with that piece of fabric.

So of course I left empty-handed and dejected, returning to the car to complete our drive down to the Redneck Riviera. After a few or fifty miles of pouting, a realization stole over me that comforted me greatly: my shirt may not spell out my regional patriotism, but anyone who's ever met me knows its engraved on my heart.