I’m writing a novel where my protagonist is very brave and doesn’t care what people think. She gets herself into all kinds of sticky situations, does things that I wouldn’t do and says whatever is on her mind and lets the chips fall where they may. In real-life situations, most of us censor what we say in order to keep the status quo, despite veiled or blatant insults, we’ll deflect those comments that hurt or offend us.
It’s afterwards (if you’re like me) you’ll mull over in your mind what you could or should have said.
Human Behavior and the Animal Kingdom
I’m fascinated by the human psyche and our behavior towards each other. We are much like the animal kingdom; get a big herd of us together and we’re all preening and positioning to establish where we are in the pecking order and who the alphas are.
In my group of few precious friends and family, I’m normally the alpha — I trade witty, sarcastic barbs, I’m quick on my feet and I lead the pack. I’m loud and boisterous and usually pretty fun, if I do say so myself.
But put me in a large group of people I don’t know very well and I’m way down on the pecking order — the little elk at the edge of the herd, stooping every once in awhile to sip a bit of water, watching warily with my fight or flight response at the ready. I’m more docile, polite, quiet. If someone says something mean-spirited or spiteful (whether intentionally or not), I usually just murmur something and remain even-tempered with a pasted-on smile.
Most likely it’s from my small-town (think Mayberry RFD, but smaller) Southern upbringing. A lady is polite. Turn the other cheek. Be nice and remember your manners. You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Remain calm and don’t be mean just because someone’s mean to you. Don’t burn bridges. Take the high road.
Maybe the Universe brings those insults into our life to keep us humble or test our resolve. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction and those instances where someone says something that leaves us speechless makes great fodder for our characters, don’t you think?
The Neighborhood Party
My husband and I had relocated to a nice neighborhood and were welcomed immediately. One of them had a big party and we were invited. We arrived fashionably late and some people were gathered around the big island in the kitchen where the appetizers/bar was set up. Over the top of the island were bright lights. A very attractive woman (she was a professor or something) walked toward me and stood a couple of feet away from where I was — under those bright lights.
Attractive, Highly-Educated Woman: Good to see you. How are you?
Me: Great and you?
Attractive, Highly-Educated Woman: Good. You’re very brave to stand under those harsh lights. She smiled, keeping her distance from the lights.
Me: I said nothing, paused, my appetizer halfway to my mouth.
Attractive, Highly-Educated Woman: I wouldn’t worry too much, at least you have good skin. She reached out and patted my arm.
Me: Thank you…?
She walked away to talk to someone else. I put my tiny food down, took my wine glass and walked away from the light.
What the frack?
The Girls’ Get-to-Together
We were living in one of those planned communities (condos, homes, shops, restaurants — all within walking distance) in the southern region of the country. Lots of ladies got together one night for a “good-old-fashioned girls’ night.” Because my husband and I have relocated frequently, I was once again the newbie. The rest of the ‘gals’ knew each other. These women were from all over the country. One, not from the southern region, asked me where I was from.
Lady Not From the South: Brigitte, where are you from dear?
Lady Not From the South: TEN – A – SEE! (saying this loudly with heavy emphasis on her version of how people from Tennessee “tawk li-i-ke).”
Me: Heh-heh, a quiet laugh and a bright, polite smile.
Later on, another woman showed up — another transplant from somewhere else. By then, most of us gals had had a couple of glasses of wine. The Transplant Lady struck up a conversation with me.
Transplant Lady: Are you from here? (I shook my head no as I sipped my wine) Where are you from?
Transplant Lady: TEN – A – SEE!
(I swear I’m not making this up)
Me: Actually, in Tennessee, we pronounce it the way it’s spelled. It seems that a great majority of people that aren’t from the state pronounce it the way you do. I wonder why that is. I smiled and cocked my head to one side.
Transplant Lady: A pause and then, Well my son dated a very nice girl from Knoxville.
Me: Yes, for the most part, all of us are pretty ni-i-ce over thar-er.
Soon after, I left the party. I could tell my censoring mechanism was weakening.
Beach Blanket Bingo
We lived near the coast and one neighbor always had a large Fourth of July Party each year. This was our first one. Everyone brought food and drink and gathered near the ocean to socialize. We were talking to the host, a great guy who made us feel welcome, despite the fact we didn’t know anyone. A very tall, tanned and toned man walked over to us. He was Mr. Clean bald, wore a chunky gold chain around his neck and his chest had tiny hair protrusions (obviously he was due for a waxing) that glistened in the fading sunlight. The host introduced us and we got all the what do you do and where are you from out the way. We’d recently relocated from a small bedroom community near Charleston, South Carolina.
Tall, Tanned, Toned Mr. Clean: So-a, South Ca-ro-lina, huh? You must-a went to a lot of them KKK meetings. Wat are they like n-e-way?
Me: Mouth open. My husband: Mouth open.
My husband started to say something (I could tell he was insulted and he’s not from the South). I put my hand on his arm and said to Mr. Clean nicely: No, we don’t know anything about that.
Mr. Clean just stood there, his smile fading a bit and a Hey-o, just jokin’ with youse because I think I took the wind right out of his porcupine-quill chested sails. The host jokingly told his friend, You better watch out, she’s a writer and you’re liable to show up in her book.
Now, would I do that?
Don’t Take It Personally
I think sometimes people don’t realize the weight of their words or maybe I’m overly-sensitive. What I’ve found is wherever I’ve landed, there’s nice people and not-so-nice people — sitcoms and reality shows unfortunately over-hype stereotypes and lead some to rely on those preconceptions.
The uncensored me replies to those people in the privacy of my writing room or in my head and they’ll sometimes show up in my writing — a short story, a chapter, a blog.
I watched an interview with Jane Fonda where she stated it wasn’t until she was well into her sixties that she stopped caring what people thought. I think it’s going to take much longer for me. I picture myself at eighty, wearing gauzy dresses, a floppy hippy hat and cowboy boots. I’ll say whatever I want, smoke a cigar in public, wear my gray hair long and in braids and have a tattoo (never had the guts to get one) on an unwrinkled part of my body that says: I am what I am, deal with it. It’ll have flowers and butterflies around it.
Until then, I’ll do what I’ve always done. But once I’m that funky, spunky eighty-year-old, watch out.