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Friday, March 13, 2009

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly

. . . failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was.
--J.K Rowling, June 5, 2008, Commencement Address to Harvard Graduating Class

I must have been about 12 years-old when my grandmother, Mama T, visiting us from Memphis, sat me down and said in her aristocratic drawl, "Lucy, I think it's time I told you about our heritage." A few years later, when she met one of my high school boyfriends, she calculatedly whispered loud enough for him to hear, "Tell me, who are his people?" She didn't want me shooting the fish at the bottom of the barrel, for certain.

My heritage includes American heroes, Civil War officers, powerful family matriarchs, n'er-do-wells, outlaws (by trade and by name), and some sorry s.o.b.'s, alike. My people are genteel, aristocratic, alcoholic, crazy, and proper as they come. Our background initiated Mama T and her female descendants into exclusive women's organizations like Junior League, Daughters of the American Revolution, United Daughters of the Confederacy, Colonial Dames, the local garden club, and the choice bridge group. She took exquisite pride in who we are and where we come from.

Like most southern ladies - like my grandmother - I learned to define myself by my name, my husband's occupation and income, who my daddy is, my home, my family history, my "stuff." Belles cling to these things like a lifeline and display them like neon letters on theater marquees, lest anyone mistake us for someone or something we are not.

Who are we, though, when these things fall apart, stripped away from us? Divorce, financial ruin, family scandal, downsizing - these things DON'T jive with our personal definitions. As J.K. Rowling told the Harvard graduates, ". . . we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it." And as we all know, the southern world, for all its sweetness and charm, gladly welcomes the drama of a failed Dixie diva. Front porch frequenters thrive on it.

But in these circumstances, we are forced to make a decision to drown in our sorrows or discover who we really are. We must, therefore, define ourselves, following three essential rules:

  1. Let go of the need to rely on breeding, history, or husband to tell the world just who you are. Those things are all fine and well, but they aren't the complete depth and breadth of us.
  2. NEVAH, NEVAH let other people decide for you.
  3. Be flexible. Change your definition as needed.
My own personal definition:
  • Lucy, n. - A woman of great talent who is always happy, but never content.
Today's Assignment: Follow the three rules and define yourself. Write it on a sticky note and put it on your monitor. Record it in your Book of Lists.

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