A dispatch from Germany

During college, I signed up for a two-week-long Honors College study abroad to Germany. I spent part of every day on that trip writing in a travel journal just for fun. Once I got back to the States, I typed it up and added as much detail as I could before I forgot everything. I reread all 13,861 (!) words of it earlier this year, and I was surprised by how well I captured everything, and by just how curmudgeonly and snarky I became toward the end of the trip. I was probably rude as hell and awful to be around. I was also constantly irritated about being made to eat sausages and potatoes every single day. In that spirit, here’s a little slice of pettiness that I wrote in about five minutes this evening as I was brainstorming for a creative writing assignment for my German Composition class.

The Potato Salad

The last time I went to
Germany,
I was mad
about having to eat sausages
and potatoes
off the prix fixe menu for
two
weeks.

I was a junior
in college
and all I wanted were some
goddamn vegetables
but my professor was obsessed
with sausages
and potatoes
and wheat beer.

The potato salad in Nuremberg
was so full of raw onion
and too sweet
and I hated it so much
I thought
that I
would
cry.

I did actually enjoy the trip despite my grumpiness. Here’s a nice picture of an unidentified street from my first day in ye olde Nuremberg, May 2013.

On being salty about Southern womanhood

It’s been at least two months since I started writing this post. I’ve been mad about the concept of Southernness for my whole life, and a certain pretty pink book pushed me over the edge. I feel like I might come off as whiny here, and that’s fine, and I might be off-base, because it’s not super realistic to expect a coffee table book selling a lifestyle to discuss white supremacy, but I’m still mad, so I’m going to talk about it anyway. This post has been percolating for a while, and even so, I still feel like certain ideas are underdeveloped, but since this has been living in drafts purgatory for so long, I figured it was time to just hit publish.

Sometime before the global pandemic really fucked shit up — time is meaningless now and I could look this up on my Goodreads account but I don’t want to — I read Reese Witherspoon’s Whiskey in a Teacup. I like Reese okay. She seems like a nice enough person, considering her incredible fame and wealth. I watch Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama when they come on TV. It’s nice to see someone who you know is from the South in the movies. I feel a connection to the South sometimes, but this is a strange place to call home.

There are plenty of cultural things that make me feel alienated from the notion of Southernness in general. My mom didn’t make sweet tea growing up, and I still won’t drink it, which folks usually have an opinion about. I can’t stand monograms. I don’t wear makeup anymore, unless it’s a special occasion. I can’t and don’t want to do my hair. I also wasn’t interested in being a debutante — not that my parents have that kind of social cachet anyway. I couldn’t be a decent hostess to save my life. These are the things that Whiskey in a Teacup identifies as integral to Southern womanhood. They might seem superficial, but they are things that tie Southern women to one stifling gender expression. We are generally socialized to be genteel, gracious, conventionally attractive people-pleasers. When I attend a social engagement outside of my usual circle of friends, I find myself extremely uncomfortable, constantly comparing myself to the other women in the room.

Maybe I need to get some self-esteem, or maybe we ought to stop “selling frilly Southern womanhood,” as a Washington Post reviewer said of Whiskey in a Teacup. I’m tired of being sold monograms and big hair and candy-colored dresses and china patterns. Those things don’t tell the whole story of Southern womanhood. Those things are bundled with the imperatives of wealth, whiteness, straightness, cis-ness, and thinness. Reese makes a feeble attempt to welcome other kinds of folks into the fold, but when she talks about how sometimes it takes as much as three hours to get your hair done at the salon, I know she’s only talking to and about white women. She’s paying the bare minimum of lip service to ~wokeness~ so that nobody can ding her too hard while not alienating conservative white women. Providing substance doesn’t sell.

The real tale of Southern womanhood includes white supremacy and trauma — especially generational trauma. Someone wrote this book to fit the Reese Witherspoon brand, and they certainly accomplished that goal. The book is pretty and sweet and fluffy. Whiskey in a Teacup doesn’t acknowledge that black women still experience pain caused by the legacy of slavery and the Jim Crow South. Reese glosses over the injustices of Jim Crow, name drops a couple of civil rights icons as examples of #GirlPower, and doesn’t acknowledge the racism that still permeates American life. All of this does a good job of holding the legacy and continued presence of white supremacy in Southern society at arm’s length. Let us not forget the integral role that white women have played and still play in upholding racist practices and institutions in this country. So many white suffragists pushed for the right to vote for white women only as a method of voter suppression. In 1901, when a select group of Alabama’s prominent white men convened to write a new constitution, it was with the express goal of codifying white supremacy (dude, the slogan the Conservative Democrat newspapers used to convince the public to ratify the constitution was “White Supremacy, Now and Forever!” I mean…). A great way to do that was to implement poll taxes that would required everyone to pay $1.50 a year in cash to be able to vote. They knew that black men and women, who had significantly less access to cash than whites, would be shut out of the electoral process. But there was a small contingency of delegates backed by suffragists who pushed for woman suffrage as another way — a slightly more constitutional way that didn’t involve election fraud, since ballot stuffing was Alabama’s favorite thing to do in the 1890s — to disfranchise black voters. Their idea of woman suffrage was limited to wealthy women, of course. But if white women could vote, whites might have a better chance of outnumbering black voters, thereby keeping black people from voting and taking back a shred of the political power they gained during Reconstruction. White women actually argued this on the floor of the constitutional convention. White women were and are complicit in upholding white supremacy! We are still pulling this shit — a prime example being the 2016 presidential election. Southern white womanhood is not moonlight and magnolias, or whatever the phrase is.

Wow, I did not expect to go on a full-on 1901 Constitution rant in the middle of this, but let’s talk about mental illness while we’re at it. My Mema was the epitome of proper Southern womanhood. She was a sweet lady whom I still love very much, even though she was most certainly racist, as someone who was born in Alabama in 1931 would usually still be. When she said “Bless your heart,” she never meant it to be mean or sarcastic. Her father was on the board of Judson College, and she was the perfect Judson Girl who married the perfect Army cadet who attended the military college down the street. I still have some of Mema’s tiny day gloves and birdcage veil hats. But these things don’t tell the whole story. She was also severely mentally ill at multiple points in her life, and my mom and my aunt are still working through the trauma. That’s what happens when a physician who later goes on to lose his license to practice medicine prescribes your mother a crazy cocktail of drugs that makes her lock herself in the bathroom, climb out the window, and run screaming down the street in her nightgown that her family is trying to murder her. True story. The thing is, stories like this are true for so many people, and we would be better served by being open and talking through them. Unfortunately, constructive discussion about pain and trauma don’t have a place in the Reese Witherspoon brand. The stories that get told are ones of childhood idyll, throwing dinner parties, arranging flowers, and wearing seersucker. These stories feel hollow to me. They’re just branding.

This is all to say that I don’t feel welcome in Reese Witherspoon’s vision of Southern womanhood. I’ve been doing a lot of questioning lately. I’ve been thinking a lot about my gender. I’ve been wondering if I can sustain the tiny nugget of religious faith I have left. I want to feel validated, but so much of Southern society is just not welcoming of folks who don’t fit those ideals that Reese is helping prop up in Whiskey in a Teacup. I might just be mad that Reese is thin and beautiful and rich and I’m not, but I think I really just want to be myself without anybody giving me shit for it. There is more than one South, and there is more than one way to be Southern. The real story of Southern womanhood includes the full spectrum of genders and sexualities and personal expression and cultural experiences and values. I can refuse to cook dinner and be a horrible hostess and still be a Southern woman. I can refuse to submit to my husband as the head of my household and still be a Southern woman. I can be open about my struggle with mental illness and still be a Southern woman. I can dress like a boy or like someone’s grandfather and still be a Southern woman. I can question everything about myself and still decide — I’m a Southern woman.

Coronavirus feelings

I’ve been wanting to record my thoughts about the coronavirus pandemic currently ravaging the globe, but like a lot things I want to do, I have a hard time sitting down and doing it. I was catching up on my Man Repeller reading last night and read this listicle that finally spurred me to write something. Even though life is unimaginably weird at the moment, I still love to make a list.

What I’m grateful for

A loving spouse who is also my closest friend
A lovely, comfortable home that feels like a refuge
A nice, sunny yard to spend time in
Still having a full-time job and health insurance
Living in a safe, walkable neighborhood
Sweet kitties to love and to keep me company
Plant children to take care of
Friends who are like family
Having a feasible contingency plan in place in case Shaw and I do lose our jobs
The internet, so that we can still spend time with friends and connect with the world
Anti-depressants
Being able to have a sense of humor through everything (so far)

What I miss

Having a normal social interaction with a friend… in person
Talking to my coworkers in real life and not over Zoom or reference chat
Going to Target to walk around and look at things I don’t need
Getting to visit my parents over spring break and finally organizing the decades’ worth of photographs stashed in their closets
Going to the thrift store on Old Monrovia to look for new clothes for the season
Going to open mic night and feeling like I’m part of a community
Meeting for German class in my professor’s office

What I don’t miss

Having to manage people at work
Spending money all the time
Going to social engagements that I would rather skip because social anxiety
Getting the Sunday scaries

What I won’t miss

Feeling anxious about all the people not practicing social distancing
Compulsively checking Alabama’s coronavirus totals every day
Not knowing whether I had coronavirus when I was sick two weeks ago, if I have it and will become symptomatic soon, or if I’ve given it to someone
Having anxiety dreams multiple times a week
The urge to give myself a haircut
Continually having to refrain from writing “in these strange times” in work emails
Mentally repeating the phrase “[blank] in the time of coronavirus”
Wanting to eat nothing but bread, cheese, and sweets but also having no appetite
The fear of gaining “quarantine weight,” because diet culture still has its claws in me
Feeling rude as hell because you can’t let your friends get near you or come inside your house
Scoffing at people who say that we should just trust God and everything will be alright
Raging at public officials who aren’t doing enough to address the pandemic
CONSTANTLY THINKING AND TALKING ABOUT CORONAVIRUS

What I won’t forget

How our governments — particularly federal and state (looking at you, Gov. Memaw) — have shamelessly exposed their real priorities for all to see: that STONKS and corporations are more important than any of our lives, literally
The amazing homemade oatmeal cream pies I baked this weekend
Yelling at Hildy to get off the dining room table because “just because the world’s turned upside down doesn’t mean you get to be on the table”
The sense of community and camaraderie between folks despite social distancing
How so many of us were (and still are) complacent and entitled and felt so superior and unconcerned with the rest of the world before the pandemic hit the U.S.
Knowing just how unbelievably good I have it

Just some things to remember while we’re all trying not to lose our minds.


EDITED TO ADD: Wow, I just looked at the date of my previous post. How life has changed since February 24th…

EDITED AGAIN ON 5/18/20 TO ADD: “Community and camaraderie”? Loooooooool I wish.

Felicia and the Lizard

Once upon a time, there was a silly little cat who lived in a trailer with three sisters. Her name was Felicia, and she was very sweet, but she was very bad at almost everything cats are supposed to do. She couldn’t jump high, she wasn’t quick or agile, and and she had terrible kitty social skills. Everyone knew exactly where she was at all times, because her loud breathing betrayed her.

One day, the sisters decided that a new addition to the household was in order. A baby iguana would be the perfect pet. They christened him Very Strong Lizard and made a home for him in the empty pantry. They added a lamp for warmth and stuffed a towel under the door so he couldn’t wander around and get into trouble. Still, his new home wasn’t especially secure or comfortable.

One afternoon while no one was home, Very Strong Lizard dislodged the towel and ventured out into the trailer, ready to find a sunny spot to lounge in. It wasn’t long before Felicia noticed. She did what cats are supposed to do, and the one thing she was very good at: She hunted him down.

Very Strong Lizard was no match for Felicia. She left the body on the floor in the eldest sister’s bedroom, where it was met with horrified screams. Poor Fee didn’t know what she’d done wrong. To this day, she still doesn’t.

Felicia, my precious bean, my dumpster child, looking extra glamorous last fall

I’m not kidding, his name was Very Strong Lizard, and he was bought from a sketchy person who had a booth at the Syrup Soppin’ Festival in Loachapoka four or five years ago. Rest in peace, Very Strong Lizard.

Hello internet, it’s me, Caroline

I’m writing this instead of doing my homework. Sure, it’s not wise to leave reading 25 pages of German till late at night, but I like to live dangerously (lol I absolutely do not).

The other day Lona asked me if I write creative non-fiction. I said no. I try my hardest to avoid doing things that I think I’m not good at, and creative writing has always given me fits. I’ve never been able to find my own voice, since I was too worried about sounding profound and obsessing over what other folks were doing. This little blog is an attempt to be myself. Expect musings on personal identity, mental illness, and history topics. And cats.

That’s it for tonight — Emil und die Detektive awaits. Snoozy floof Penny says night night.