Culture Shock: A Yankee Meets The South

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*I actually wrote this years ago, but the story is still funny, so enjoy! ☺️

Plenty of factors are to blame for my decision to make the all-emcombassing move from Pennsylvania to unfamilar Arkansas, a sliver of the deep south previously nonexistent to me. College, the companionship of my mother and most of all, a much needed change of scenery, all pushed me to pack up my life and journey twenty hours away from all I knew and loved. But let’s be clear: in no way did I want to BECOME Southern; who I am remains the same regardless of my surroundings. But I took a leap of faith and landed in a place so different that it still continues to shock me. Oh, the experiences of a yankee who crosses way beyond the Mason-Dixon…
On my first Saturday as an actual Arkansas resident, I found myself slumped in the backseat of my step-father’s Volkswagen Jetta, stroking the chilled, nubby surface of the armrest, staring out the window at what seemed like some sort of naturally occuring wasteland: brown lumpy rows of mush running along side one another, one after the next forming a muddy stew blanketing mile after mile of barren fields, stretching as far as I could see in all directions. I would soon learn that this hideous landscape was actually acres and acres of rice fields, a staple of the state and the cornerstone of this area. This was the ‘duck hunting capital of the world’: a city better known as Stuttgart, Arkansas. 
I was informed, or rather warned, by my mother upon my arrival that our presence was expected at a party being thrown by Dave’s fellow employees. After all, his position was the reason he and my mother had relocated south to begin with. After much debate and floundering on my own accord, I had made the trek and was en route to what was to be my first true taste of Arkansas living. It turns out this party was in fact a ‘crawfish boil’ and was being held at the company’s ‘duck camp’. Both of these terms were new to my vocabulary and definitely a mystery to me. What sort of secret backwoods tradition could I possibly be getting myself into? Images of ducks running wild through campsites complete with tents, lanterns and smores flooded my mind, but I hadn’t the slightest inkling as to what this ‘crawfish’ nonsense could be; I was unable to find any memory in which to associate with that term. 
Fresh off the plane, soaking in all my obvious Yankee glory, I watched these rice fields whizzing past, shocked by the utter desolation of this place. Never had I been forced to travel longer than ten minutes (and that’s being generous) to reach some sort of convenience, better known to me as civilization, in its most basic form. I was certain we hadn’t passed a single store in atleast half an hour, not even your basic 7-11. I wondered where these poor fools who had actually chosen to reside here got their toilet paper. What if they craved a Dr. Pepper at 10 PM or ran out of coffee in the morning? My mother sensed my disbelief and made some sort of joke that was hilarious to us, but probably would have offended these folks that must enjoy living so far off the beaten path. 
After one misstep in our directions forced us to turn around in a tiny town called Holly Grove (sounds like a serial killer hot spot, if you ask me), which was basically a handful of crumbling buildings and two old men sitting on a bench in what I guessed to be the ‘town square’, we were finally arriving at our destination, which instantly erased all of my previous expectations of ‘duck camp’. We pulled up to a cabin situated on some sort of waterway, surrounded by woods and dusty terrain. Why this place wasn’t simply referred to as a cabin, (which is exactly what it was) was beyond me, but this was only the beginning of what is now a daily reminder of the stark differences between two opposite regions of the same country. Duck camp or cabin, it was a very nice property, filled with mounted animals and stories of hunts long since past. I was reminded of the weeks I spent at my uncle’s cabin in the mountains of Pennsylvania, but this scenery was vastly different, including the high temperature and sticky heat that smacked me in the face upon exiting the comfort of the air-conditioned car. Yes, there’d be plenty to get used to in my new environment.
Dave was bombarded by friends seemingly ecstatic at his arrival. I was introduced to a number of nice people, who seemed to immediately identify that I was not from around here, even before my ‘accent’ came into play. There were some lawn chairs, a few kids messing around on four-wheelers caked in mud, and even a few smiles lacking a tooth or two. I can remember smiling to myself at the unexpected conformation of my expectations (with no malicious intent, of course). Our new companions commented on my poor choice in clothing for such an occasion (I was wearing white shorts, mind you) and delighted in the fact that I had no clue as to what to expect from any of the day’s activities. The Arkansans had obviously dressed in what I guessed was more appropriate attire: various Razorback shirts, shorts, camoflage in many forms and of course, a hat atop each and every head. But the ensemble of the woman I met next was downright comical. In a long black dress, large decorative hat, plenty of gaudy jewelry and (you’re kidding me, right?) white PANTY HOSE with clunky sandals, she explained that she’s who made the fried pies on the table and gave me a once over I would have expected from someone in a far better role in which to judge. I’m almost positive it was damn near 100 degrees and she was in panty hose and what could have been a blanket. I’ve come to learn that supposedly some Southern women are old-fashioned that way. I’ll take my white shorts any day, thank you very much.
After a barrage of questions and plenty of “say this!” “say that!”, followed by rolling laughter at my family’s ‘yankee accent’ (didn’t they know it was THEM who had the accent?!), it was time to feast. Ah, the time had come to find out about this mysterious ‘crawfish boil’. 
As it turns out, most of the food was downright fabulous: huge pots filled with crawfish, corn, potatoes and sausage, all doused in spicy seasoning with all the trimmings. Although definitely unlike the seafood I so cherish back home, I had no complaints. Well, just one: just how do I go about eating one of these little suckers? 
Ask anyone who has even dined on hardshell crabs with me: I can pick apart crabs like a champion, lightning fast, effective and without waste of any kind. It’s a family tradition and I do it with pride. But these tiny crawfish had no clear point of entry; there was no obvious plan of attack. It was time for my next lesson in the ways of the South. Spoken in a slow, twangy drawl, my directions were to crack the mudbug in half and suck the meat straight out of its head. 
Um, excuse me? As horrifying as this process seemed in theory, it actually proved to be quite effective. But even after I was successful in this ‘head-sucking’ hilarity, I munched on mostly corn, potatoes and peach fried pies for the rest of the meal. Covering my face in crawfish juice was something I only needed to experience a time or two.
With full bellies and plenty of liquid courage, the evening festivities at the ‘duck camp’/cabin commenced. More four-wheeling (which I politely declined thanks to my white shorts and favorite flat sandals), some fishing off the ricketey dock and even a few fireworks. As homesick as I was for my Northern roots, this day of introduction to a Southern style hayday was certainly a pleasant one. Worth the ridiculous drive to the middle of who knows where? Debatable, but you’d hear no complaints from me. Atleast until the drive home. I would definitely regret all that soda I drank when there’s no place with indoor plumbing for miles.
For this Yankee’s first weekend in her new Southern home, the crawfish boil was filled with humor, introduction, and the start of what has become a life that is still a constant state of culture shock, even after all of the years I’ve logged here. There are plenty of Southern ways that still confuse me, surprise me, make me laugh or even make me cringe, but as far as a place to be, the ‘dirty’ south is a comfortable homestead. I am proud of my Northern upbringing, and although I’ll never believe in vast close-mindedness, their conservative lifestyles or (call me crazy) closed liquor stores on Sundays, and I’ll never be caught dead in panty hose, or see the necessity in churches the size of the White House, but I’ll admit I like calling Arkansas home. My ‘yankee accent’ is far from a ‘southern twang’, but a blending of these two wild and weird cultures make for a life I can surely be content with.

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The Weirdness of Love

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Love is weird. We experience it in so many different ways, whether from whoever we choose to be with, or with our children, pets, family or friends. And because all of those versions of differ from one another, we really have all very unique ways of experiencing this very complicated human emotion. Do we really fall in love with someone? Or is it more about finding a person and mutually agreeing to accept one another for life because we as a species don’t like being alone? I’m willing to bet everyone’s definition of love is different, making it still such a strange and extraordinary thing.
It still baffles me that my husband and I have been married for five years. That may not seem like such a long time, but the way in which we began our relationship was so unconventional that there were plenty of people with plenty of doubt. When I first met him, as cheesy as this sounds, I felt like I was “meant” to know him. We were instantly inseparable, and a few months later, when he asked me if I wanted to drive to Las Vegas at 11:00 at night and get married, I didn’t even hesitate. We drove 25 hours, through a true blizzard that stopped us on the interstate multiple times, and it was then that we realized that surviving that trip was obvious proof that this was meant to be. In a black dress that was nowhere near bridal attire, I married my husband in a tiny ceremony just steps away from the Vegas courthouse.
But it hasn’t all been a fairytale. If you’d ask me if you should run off and get married to someone you technically barely know, I’d tell you to run like hell (My husband has a longstanding joke that he “tricked me”) but I WILL say that being married helped us push through issues that otherwise probably would have ended us. And helped us grow into better people, both individually and together. It turns out we are actually two very different people, but somehow we’ve made it work. He may never care about Hunter S. Thompson or like my tattoos, but we get each other in a very real way, which to me, is definitely love.

 
Do I regret not having a ‘real‘ wedding? Sometimes. When we first came back from Vegas, we told my family we were only engaged so I could have an actual wedding. I started planning, bought an incredible gown, and even sent out save the dates. But after drunkingly spilling the beans to my mom, and my husband growing tired of not telling everyone, we just let it go. I imagine that someday we’ll renew our vows so that I can wear that dress and have my dad walk me down the aisle, but I’m happy knowing that we did something seriously awesome; something most people would only dream of. And now we have a seriously cool story to tell our son.
And now, five years later, after such a non traditional marital journey, we’re actually living a VERY traditional life. My husband works and I stay home, and our roles as breadwinner and housewife are the ultimate 1950’s cliche. But I’ll never be Betty Draper, and my husband will never be Don. But my son will grow up remembering that he never had to leave his mom’s side, which brings me such a lovely sense of comfort. If I ever needed to remind myself what love is, I need to look no further than his tiny, gorgeous face.
So is there really a universal way to describe love? It’s truly a different experience for everyone, and engrained so deeply into our human psyche that I’d almost consider it part of what actually makes us human. A kiss from my dog is obviously different than one from my husband, but it’s all love, just the same. So spread it: whatever it is that you consider love. And all of us, as humans finding our place on this planet, should be willing to find it. Maybe then, as happy, loving beings, we will finally understand one another and enjoy a bright, peaceful, and open hearted world.

  

Appreciate Your Weird 👽

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One of my friends I cheered with in high school posted this adorable and hilarious story about a conversation with her young son on my facebook:  I told her that it made my night that she specifically thought to share this moment with me and how funny it was because let’s face it, kids say the most hilarious things without even realizing it. But it also made me realize something else: I am an open book. About many things. And completely unafraid to talk about things that some close minded people might call crazy. It made me smile, knowing despite how silly I might sound when I talk about aliens or conspiracies or cannabis legalization or who knows what else, there might always be someone who appreciates it enough to reach out to me when the subject comes up, and to me, that’s cool as hell.

When other moms who smoke weed reach out to me and tell me that my thoughts or advice have helped them in any tiny way, shape or form, my heart swells to 10 times its normal size. I am unapologetic when it comes to who I am, so to have someone tell me they appreciate any part of what I have to say is pure gold to me. Instead of being criticized, I’m greeted with admiration. My favorite teacher, Mr. Fulton, once told me something along the lines of my writing had a relatable quality to it that made my words feel really genuine (the best compliment I’ve ever received) and that’s always stuck with me, even when I’m just blasting my opinions about everything from the JFK assassination to what makes a good mother. Even these simple blog posts I write might mean something to someone, and that in turn, means everything to me.

For instance, this casual facebook status from last week:  Now, I always say these kinds of things on twitter. That’s where I can honestly have no fear about what others think, and where my real friends are (even those who live thousands of miles away!) because we all communicate on a truly personal level. As best as you can with 140 characters, anyway. But imagine my surprise when SO many people ‘liked’ this status, told me how funny and accurately I described myself, and that they’ve always appreciated how unique I am. Quite a confidence booster, considering the bulk of crap I usually see on facebook is people’s highly annoying prayer requests, memes about anything from Jesus to Obama to being a redneck, or highly off putting political views. I speak openly about my opinions, no matter how different from my peers here in the Bible Belt, and it makes me happy to have anyone appreciate it. I’ll never be afraid to talk about something I like, no matter how people might see it. Want to know why I sage and use crystals? Want to know if I (obviously) believe in aliens? Want to know why I think weed should be legal? Want to know who I think was responsible for Kurt Cobain’s death? Want to know if I think ghosts are real? Just ask! I’m always game for a weird conversation.

The point of sharing any of this? To encourage anyone to just ‘BE YOURSELF’. Whatever you’re into, own it. Because not only is it part of who you are, but it makes you awesome, no matter how different it may be from the next person. And remember, there’s always someone somewhere that will say “Me too!” or “Same here!”. In a world as weird and unpredictable as ours is today, those little bonds are a necessity. Own your weirdness. Own your geeky. Own your spooky. Own your magic. Whatever your story, there is always someone who will want to read it.

First or Third Person: The Story of This Currently Conflicted Writer

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After what seems like months with nothing but dry ideas and lack of motivation, some promising inspiration suddenly hit me last night. I was up for what was probably way too long trying to plant specific story points that came to mind, hoping that by morning I wouldn’t forget all this creative gold (it had been a long time coming, ok?! 😊) and lucky for me, I woke with a head full of characters and plot lines, scenery and tone, not to mention lovely optimism towards finally wanting to write.

I do realize I am getting way ahead of myself, that this is all just still free writing and we all know that what may or (usually) may not come of that. But my main issue lately, the bane of my writing existence is deciding between writing in first or third person

I’ve played around a bit with both ways, and while it seemed I could probably go either way, atleast in the short beginning drafts I was toying with, but I worry. 

If I go for first person, am I going to be able to throughly build a good story from only one perspective? But if I choose third person, will I get too bogged down with description and struggle creating necessary dialogue?

Please tell me you’ve been there, too. I guess this is why they say the hardest part of writing is actually starting to write. 😊

Whatever It Meant.

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Any day is the right day for some HST! As obsessed as I’ve been with his work for years, I still read his words in his Gonzo style with great wonder; not before or since has a writer been able to capture a feeling, a memory, or a moment so vividly for his many avid readers.
I wonder what my son will think when I tell him I read Fear and Loathing for the fourth time out loud to him while he was still in my belly 🙂