Saturday, June 28, 2008

At War with My Inner GRITS

Here lately, I am feeling overwhelmed. Given that I have worked 12+ hour days for most of the month of June, I suspect what I'm actually feeling is exhaustion, but that's a whole other issue. Granted, I am my own worst enemy: when asked about heading up a school event, writing a play for the children's sermon, or hosting a dinner party for six, I do know the word "no," I just have a hard time using it. I am, after all a Girl Raised in the South--which means I have a permanent responsibility to my mother and all who came before her to serve God, family, friends, and country with a smile on my face and a spatula in my hand.

The Good Southern Girl Code says nothing about a pen, much less a keyboard, so I have no one but myself to blame for overloading the straw on that proverbial camel's back with my literary aspirations. I mean, it's not like someone's holding a gun to my head, saying, "You'd better get that next book finished, girl!" (Well, my sister's pretty insistent, but that's just because she wants to go on tour with me again.) So I am the only person I can blame for those feelings of guilt, inadequacy, incompetence, and failure that attack when I collapse on my pillow at 1 AM and acknowledge that another day has gone by without me even opening the file for my novel, much less contributing to it.

Meanwhile, as I lay there beating myself up for not writing, I'm also apologizing to my Inner GRITS for the hot breakfast I failed to cook (my children are perfectly happy with cold cereal, but The Code demands homemade waffles with fresh fruit compote--or at least eggs and toast), the get well cards I failed to send my ailing friends and relations, the foot massage I failed to give my husband, the load of towels I failed to fold, the dire condition of my cuticles, and the feeble pat I offered my dog while ignoring the ball he held hopefully in his mouth. By the time I fall asleep, I am mired in a pool of shame deep enough to fry magnolia blossoms.

Such is the burden of being a Girl Raised in the South. We are kind to strangers, but we are brutal on ourselves. My generation of women is trying to hold up standards our great-grandmothers set and that's just dandy--except they did it without full-time jobs and with a maid and a gardener! True, they didn't have air conditioning, microwaves, or clothes dryers--things I consider pretty much essential at this point--but I suspect I would give up my microwave for a COOK in a heartbeat. My poor family has eaten so much pizza this month, they should have enough lycopene in their bodies to guarantee immortality.

You can say "So lower your standards!" to an overworked, overwhelmed Southern girl, but we interpret that as, "Sugar, you are obviously nothing but white trash and are not worthy of having inherited your Great-Aunt Fannie's crystal lemonade set," so those standards must remain firmly in place even if our sanity slips while trying to meet them. In my own household of all men--all of whom were born in the South but only one of whom seems to celebrate that fact--absolutely NO ONE but me understands why it is tacky to put the mayonnaise jar on the table. I do it frequently, Lord forgive me, but the scolding voice of my mother in my head is loud enough to make me cower. Condiment containers on the table is right up there with not wearing a slip or having a dirty car: certain proof that you are just this side of common--and to true GRITS, there is nothing worse than being common.

Oh, the shame of being a Common Goddess instead of a Comma Goddess! That's enough to give me the vapors. So I promise I'll do better this week, Mother! I'll get a manicure, make the boys cookies from scratch, and I'll mail every one of those get-well cards--right after I finish this next chapter.