The Perils of Being a Pauline (Versus Being a Paul)

“Okay, YOU take the last crock pot. It’s yours!”

I have learned that most stories come in two flavors–plot driven or character driven. I’m a character-driven kind of writer. Don’t get me wrong. I like suspense. I like a good mystery. I like a good thriller. But what I really like is to develop a relationship with the characters I meet.

During my intensive study of the craft of writing, I have also learned that some of the best romance novels are written by men. Ah, what a formidable undertaking. I do, however, feel it is my duty to make sure, should some man out there decide to cast his main POV character as a Southern woman, that he get his facts straight. Girls and guys do not think alike, and even though Southern girls can hunt, fight, or tinker with an automobile as well as some men, they also possess a Southern belle femininity that cannot be denied.

So, all you guy writers out there, allow me to help you just a bit. Take a gander at the following:

A Southern Gal’s Guide to Creating a Character-Driven Storyline from a Southern Belle’s POV

Southern girls like to hunt. Some of them use a gun. Others use a credit card. Now let’s say your story takes place around Thanksgiving, the hours before Black Friday to be exact. Please don’t expect all the women to still be in the kitchen or in front of the TV after 8 p.m.

Yes, Southern girls like football–some do. But others are ready for big game. I’m talking major bargain shopping.

Yes, I know it’s Christmastime. Yes, I know this is the season to give, not receive. But we are talking SHOPPING here, Southern girl shopping. You don’t reallly expect a Southern girl to shop for others when retailers are offering 60% off, do you?

I don’t do Vera Bradley, but a lot of Southern girls do. If Vera Bradley is on sale, then the hunt is on. It’s every woman for herself out in the field. We HAVE to bag the bargains. It’s what we do. And we can only get the bargains if we KNOW what they are, i.e. the stuff WE like.

Now let’s say, Mr. Gentleman Writer, that you like to hunt. We women would NOT expect you to go out on opening day of deer season, quail season, turkey season, etc. and shoot something for someone else.

No. You put the scope on what it is YOU want, and YOU pull the trigger. You don’t say, “Oh, I bet Willie would look good with this buck in the back of his truck.”  No. You’d shoot it for yourself. Put it in the back of YOUR truck, and take it to YOUR house.

Why then would a woman bag a bargain for someone else? Yes, it’s Christmas. But if a woman is serious enough to get up before dawn just to go to a department store, then she deserves her limit, and she deserves to bring home her trophy kill too.

By the way, I am not one of those women who likes to hunt. I prefer NOT to kill Bambi or his mother. But I acknowledge the fact that hunting does control the game population.

Bargain hunting is good too. Every woman is competitive, especially a Southern woman. I teach. I’ve seen the heels come off, the earrings come out. I’d much rather break up a guy fight than a girl fight. Girls pull hair, scratch, bite, and cuss if need be. It gets ugly.

It is my opinion that bargain shopping helps control this primitive urge that all women have to be number one. There’s something about snagging the last sweater or fine linen during a blue light special that makes a girl feel like a WOMAN.

And, yes, sometimes we do get caught up in the bargain frenzy. I’ve been there and done that a few times myself. One Black Friday I was up at 4 a.m. at the local Walmart. I didn’t know what I was in line for because women swarmed the stack of merchandise in the center aisle. I joined in, and before I knew it, I had three crock pots in my shopping cart. I don’t even like to cook.

A Southern woman MUST conquer, but not without saying “Excuse me” or “Bless your heart,” as she sees the look of disappointment in the eyes of the woman she beat to the last pair of half-off boots. On the inside, she feels like a winner.

So, dear Gentleman Writer, should your thoughts turn to the holiday season and should shopping slip into your storyline, please consider the heart of a Southern woman. Do not stereotype her as materialistic. You have to get into her head. You have to understand that shopping is a natural instinct. She is not seduced by the glitter and bling. She has a job to do to protect the name of all women, those who like to shop and those who don’t.

BTW…In case you are preparing to scold me for my very materialistic blog, please note that I am simply trying to bring a smile to your face. Surely, you don’t think I’m being serious. I bet you also think I’d actually stalk Steven Tyler. 😉

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Giving thanks

I love teaching teens how to write. One, it gives me an excuse to indulge myself and write about topics I wouldn’t ordinarily. And, two, I love it when they are proud of what they’ve written and want me to read it.

While it’s fun to be indulgent, the greatest rewards with writing—and anything else—come with giving to others. Friday at school I changed up the game plan, so instead of having my students write about themselves, I told them to use their words to bless others, to tell one of their teachers why they are thankful that their lives have crossed. I don’t know what the students wrote, but I hope their words made a positive difference.

I noticed on Facebook that people have been counting down to Thanksgiving by naming a new reason each day as to why they’re thankful.

I haven’t joined in the game, but I’ve done a lot of soul searching.

I have to confess. I’m not jealous, but every time I read what these Facebook writers say, I find myself wanting more. Or less. I guess it depends on how you look at life.

I want MORE of a closer relationship with God but less ritual. I don’t want to go to church to fill my schedule with committee meetings, play practices, and parties. I want more God.

I want MORE love, not necessarily on the receiving end but on the giving end. I want the fulfillment that comes with giving a part of yourself to others. But in today’s world, people are suspicious. They think there’s a catch so they put up walls to ward off manipulation. I don’t want or need anything in return except maybe for people to accept without feeling obligated to give anything back.

I want MORE Jesus but less middle-man. Facebook has been come our new town hall, our new beauty shop or barber shop, our new front porch where people go to sit a spell and just talk. I don’t dislike that people talk about Jesus on Facebook, but I don’t like the posts that say, “If you love Jesus, share this photo.” I don’t think he’d appreciate that.

I want MORE philanthropy and less chalkboard. I find myself questioning my motives whenever I do something unselfish. Am I tallying up my goodness to pass myself off as a “good” person, or can I do good without telling a soul?

I want MORE thanksgiving and less regret. We make mistakes. We face disappointments. We get hurt. I want to put aside all of those things. I want to be happy for the moment, for a moment is sometimes all we have.

So with that being said, I’ll try to catch up with my Facebook friends and add my five reasons why I’m thankful this season.

  • I’m thankful for creativity. If God didn’t orchestrate creativity, our five senses would be useless. I don’t want to take for granted all the beauty that surrounds me.
  • I’m thankful for serendipity, that God allows us to think with the mind of a child so that our hearts can leap a little when we discover something wonderful, that we don’t succumb to sarcasm and take for granted the wonder in life.
  • I’m thankful to be a mother, that I can nurture and protect.
  • I’m thankful for friends who allow me to let down my guard and who let down theirs without thinking I have ulterior motives.
  • I’m thankful for family, who gave me part of themselves so that I can carry part of them wherever I go.

(Okay, maybe I don’t do math so well, but I can’t leave out this one:  I’m thankful for you for reading my blog and for offering me encouragement. You’ve changed my life in a good way. I hope I can help change yours.)

A day in the life of me

Assignment for my creative writing class:  Borrow some of the techniques Dean Koontz uses in Odd Thomas
and write your own story titled “A Day in the Life of Me.”

I am a night owl. I like to stay up past midnight when everyone else has gone to sleep and the house is mine. The solitude is mine. My thoughts are mine. And I can write.

But when morning comes I’m never ready to wake up. Just a few more minutes of sleep—I reset the alarm. I hate the alarm.

And I have to dress according to my mood. If I wear the “wrong” thing, well then, my day planks. No, I’m not a fashionista. Maybe it’s a feng shui thing, applied to clothing.

But I can never find my shoes. And off I go in search. Why I don’t look under my computer table, why I dig through the bottom of my closet, I do not know. I cannot wear shoes in my house. Off they go as I sit cross-legged in my rolling chair writing or playing my guitar.

Get dressed, dab on a little make-up, straighten my hair, find my earrings. Oh, have mercy. If I don’t wear my lucky earrings, I am incomplete.

And regardless of the time, I must complete my morning ritual. I check Facebook and WordPress, and I play my guitars, electric and acoustic. I switch them up. Both have their own little nuances.

I can’t put into words what these guitars mean to me. They are my life source.

I’m not saying God isn’t. He is, of course. I’m just saying that for me to be me, I have to find myself through song. Some people march to the beat of their own drummer. I make my own melodies on a six string.

And the first thing I do when I get home from school? Play guitar. And what’s the last thing I do before bed at night? Play guitar. My life source. The one materialistic thing that lets me be me.

And it never fails.

I play too long, or the clock cheats and makes me late. I rush to my Durango to head to school. And then I realize I don’t have my phone. I run back into the house and grab it from my charger and stuff it in my bag. Half way to school, I panic. Where is my phone? I think, “Did I put it in my bag?”

And I madly search for it while trying oh so hard not to go past the 15 mph school zone speed limit. I don’t need another $173 ticket. Nay, I do protest. I’ve lived near the school practically all my life, and it wasn’t until I received my ticket that I ever saw those signs, new of course, marking the extended school zone.

Someone pulled a fast one, and it wasn’t just me. But I was the one stuck with a ticket.

I get to school. Aw, man. Has the bell rung? Can I get signed in before 7:45?

I rush, rush, rush. I used to be an early bird, arriving at 6:30 a.m. But I’m a weary basket case, so 7:40 it is on most days…or 7:45.

I rev up to teach the college English classes. Seniors. Who woulda thunk I’d like them? They’re laid back. Heck they’re almost adults. We can so relate.

Oh, you teachers of K-10. Bless your hearts, especially middle-school teachers. How do you handle the giggles, farts, snickers, and burps? And I can’t believe I just used the f word in my blog. Never. Totally uncouth.

Attendance. I have to take attendance, but my computer will not pull up portal. I spend all of announcement time trying to log on. And then I’m bombarded by students who want one-on-one help. I can’t transition from English to sociology. The same thing happens with the transition to creative writing.

But ah….it’s time for newspaper production, a time when I can work ALONE on the technical aspects of desktop publishing that my students rarely learn. It’s too complicated. I have to do it myself to send the files over the Internet. Word, Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, Distiller, Adobe PDF. I do the job of a graphic designer without ever having taken the first college class. And that’s why they pay me the big bucks to take on the school newspaper. Not.

By now I realize I have never turned on my phone. I turn it on and discover a couple of texts. Aw, man. No wonder everything has been quiet.

And I rush, rush, rush. Multi-task. Grade papers. Call parents. Check my email. Check my email. Check my email. Email for high school. Email for Motlow. Email for writing. Email for Harmony House. Would you believe I didn’t check it for a few days, and I exceeded 1,000 messages for one account. I hate email almost as much as I hate my alarm clock.

Then it’s back home.

Oh, what to expect. Usually something LOUD. It starts with boy grumbling about taking out dog. Then there are words. And then there is a quick trip outdoors. Back in. No success. The dog gets irritated and lays a passive aggressive plan in the kitchen. I hear more yelling. It gets ugly. Every day. Same old song and dance.

I must grade. I must grade. I must grade. But I have had my heart and soul telepathically sucked out of me from the other bodies in my room craving my attention. I want to give, but what’s left? I’m tired.

I need a break, so I watch TV. Last night it was Nashville. The show, to me, seems fairly realistic. I’ve been on the far, far outer fringes of the Nashville music scene for years. Been to a few media events. Done my fair share of schmoozing. I love that show. I do. The tension is spot on. I can feel it.

I also watch Criminal Minds, Leverage, Psych, Supernatural, Major Crimes Bones, etc.

Truth be told, though, I really wish I could give up TV. I want to read.

Reading and writing are gifts you give yourself and others. Oh, to read.

And, finally, I lay me down, my soul to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

So many distractions in a day. So many reasons to lose focus. So many sources of discouragement. Sleep is a fine escape.

Snuggled in my Ireland t-shirt and old black sweats, I drift off. I dream. But the dream never lasts long enough. The alarm goes off. And I wake up when the day breaks.

And I do it again.

Face time

Last week we had special guests in our classroom. A couple of our special needs students came in to work with my college dual-enrollment students. It was a great experience for all of us.

While I was working one on one with my seniors, one of the special needs students tried her best to get my attention. “Ma ma. Ma ma,” she said.

Over and over she called out, but I didn’t realize she wanted me. I was engrossed with roll taking, essay checking, grammar checking, blah blah blah.

The visiting teacher explained the situation, so I stopped what I was doing and went to her desk to say hello. I knelt at her side, and before I knew it, she had reached out and grabbed my face, scratching my nose.

Ouch! I was taken by surprise, but I wasn’t upset. She reached for my face because that is how she communicates affection. All she wanted was a little face time.

Wow. What a lesson.

Today in public schools, we teachers are expected to spend a lot of time at our computers filling out surveys, sending lesson plans, taking online attendance, creating documents, sharing information on the drive. All of this technology is nice, but we only have so many hours in a day. I would rather unplug the computer and spend what little time I have in the classroom teaching my students with only pencil and paper rather than give up face time.

Sadly, I believe I have spent more time this year staring at a computer screen than quietly observing my students as they work. I’m not sure if I would recognize all of them if I saw them out in public, out of the classroom environment. That’s sad.

Everybody needs face time. We need human contact, human interaction. A virtual companion can provide many things, but it can’t hug you when you need a hug. It can’t offer a shoulder, when you need one to lean on. It can‘t smile, and it can’t wipe away tears.

So, thank you, dear student, for my surprise wake-up call. It was a little painful, and I have a little mark on my nose where you got me

I don’t wear a whole lot of make-up. I kind of like the natural look, but I’m like most women. If I get a blemish, I try to cover it up with a little foundation, anything to make it less noticeable.

But this scratch on my nose, I don’t hide it at all. I wear it with pride because this student was able to communicate to me, more so than any other, that “Hey, I need some face time. Look at me. I’m important, and I think you’re important too. Spend time with me—not your computer.”

I’m not sure what today’s post has to do with writing. I guess it’s just about being human. Writing and reading are gifts we give to others and to ourselves.

Everyone we meet has a story. I guess by tuning in and focusing on what he or she has to say, we actually take time to read it.

That matters.