The Bow Tie Redemption

I’ve never been fond of bow ties. Especially not after I had to wear a red sequined covered bow tie and cumberbund in the 5th-grade choir.

Then as an adult, I began to associate bow ties of all designs with a certain person I knew who wore them every day. He harassed me. Sometimes it was more blatant than others, but it was all harassment and happened often. After I broke off my association with that person, I still had a little flare of anger and revulsion every time I saw someone wearing a bow tie. It was most unfortunate that they made a huge mainstream comeback right about that time.

Then I started a new job. I became a teacher. My first day, in the summer and weeks before the students came back, I hauled supplies and decor to my classroom and prepared to spend hours creating a welcoming learning environment for my new charges. I was excited and nervous. Mostly nervous. Across the hall, I could see a very tall adult about my age playing cards with what was clearly a group of students. I heard snippets of their hushed conversation and their laughter. When they concluded their game, the students left and the adult came over to introduce himself. It turned out he was the English teacher with whom I would share my end of the hallway for the next school year.

Over the next few days, he came into my classroom to check on me and introduce other teachers as they trickled in to prepare for the new year. By the time school started, I had a friend on staff and was all the more blessed for it. But on the first day the students joined us, I cringed. My new friend showed up wearing a bow tie. Gross.

It was unfair to judge his fashion choice so harshly. I knew it. It was irrational. And yet, I did. I detested bow ties. I didn’t say anything, even though he wore a bow tie every day without fail. It was his signature look.

Over the course of the year, we ended up coaching soccer together and spent a portion of each afternoon decompressing or sharing crazy student stories. We discussed Doctor Who, Ernest Hemmingway, Black Adder, religion, politics, music, and our ups and downs as educators. I made other friends on staff, but “Jones” was my buddy. And before any of you get any ideas, he was my completely platonic buddy. We were both married and my spouse felt like he knew Jones long before I ever got the chance to introduce them.

When I left my position at that school to embark on a new adventure, there were several things I missed. One of them was Jones. He was more than a smart, funny guy. He was a truly gifted teacher. He cared about his students deeply. And he had the world’s best catchphrases. “The utter/sheer jackassery.” “Feckin’ ridiculous.” “That’s nice.” The last was said with a deep–and exaggerated–southern drawl with just a hint of condescension, and something about it made me laugh every time he said it. It was his own personal version of “Bless your heart.”

Less than two weeks ago, I got word that Jones passed away. It didn’t seem real. How could this shining light be snuffed out so young? Students, fellow teachers, employers, classmates, and family began posting tributes on social media. They were all beautiful in their own way, but they also all had one thing in common. In every picture, Jones was wearing a bow tie.

Years of memories with a common thread. A man who was deeply loved and had an inexplicable affinity for bow ties. When I realized it, tears welled up and I started to giggle a bit. My husband thought I was hysterical, I’m sure, but he let me be because I was grieving. I will miss Jones in ways I cannot say. And I’m sorry for the students, at every level that will never get to know his gift. His legacy is one of caring and dedication. And bow ties.

But now when I see a bow tie I don’t cringe. I don’t gag a little. I don’t think of that man who harassed me. Instead, I think of Jones. Of hot tea and themed yarmulkes. Of my first ever teaching friend. Of a man who spent his life serving others.

If anyone was ever going to be able to redeem bow ties, it was Jones. And he did it. One more thing I can add to the long list of reasons I’m grateful to have known him.

Goodbye, Jones. Thanks for everything.

Banned Books Week

I didn’t know there was a specific week to celebrate banned books until my local library posted about it on social media. I think it’s marvelous.

Until I was a senior in high school, I thought banning books was something that happened in other countries. Less developed countries. Less democratic countries. Not the United States. Where I lived, even when the local helicopter moms got hot and bothered about Harry Potter books, the rest of the PTA rolled their eyes and out-voted them.

But when I was in twelfth grade, I took a Southern Literature class. My teacher, who was amazing, gave us an unusual assignment. She passed out a list of the most often banned and challenged books in America and made us choose one to read and report back to the class. I had heard of all the books on the list, and had already read several, but had not realized that they weren’t carried in our school library. Our local public library had most of them. I went to the local bookstore and, as was my habit, spent a lot of time examining the book flaps and blurbs of the ones I had narrowed it down to before choosing one. I probably would have bought more, but back then my book budget was even smaller than it is now.

Part of our report had to include why the book had ever been challenged and then we had to discuss whether we agreed with the censorship of it or not. One by one, each of us vehemently disagreed with the banning of the books, regardless of whether or not it portrayed ideals different from our own. Because banning a book doesn’t change the fact that someone thinks or feels that way. And if we aren’t willing to even read a book written by someone who thinks differently than we do, then we are confining ourselves to a very small worldview.

I sometimes wonder if everyone in my class back then would still agree with that sentiment today. I hope so.

So let’s all celebrate Banned Books Week and read something controversial. Something rebellious. Something contradictory to our views or opinions.

I am reminded of a quote that is often wrongly attributed to Voltaire, but is actually from Evelyn Beatrice Hall (writing as S. G. Tallentyre) and meant to describe Voltaire’s attitude. It seems a fitting end to this post, so I’ll leave you with these words. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Things I Learned From My Father

I lost my biological mother at a young age. My father remarried when I was a teenager, but in the interim, he was a single parent. My oldest sister was already married when my mother passed, but the other three of us were still in school, ranging from elementary (me) to late high school. After my brother and sister graduated and moved out, it was just me and my father for a few years before he married my mom (yes, I refer to my stepmother as my mom).

Growing up he drove me crazy, as parents are wont to do. He was exacting, he had high expectations, he was embarrassing, and worst of all he was a morning person–the kind that wants you to be up and active with him by dawn. Despite and perhaps because of all this, I love him dearly. He’s my father, and he always did his best to prepare me for my independence. While I may complain on occasion about things he says or does, the truth is that when I need him, I know he’ll be there.

So, in honor of Father’s Day this weekend, I thought I would share with you some of the things I’ve learned from my dad over the years.

  1. Like and love are two completely different emotions. They are not always mutually inclusive and they are not always mutually exclusive. In other words, you can like someone and not be in love with them, but you can also love somebody and not like them very much. On the other hand, when you find somebody who you like and love, it’s a big deal.

  2. You have to earn trust. You have to earn respect. And once earned, it is still possible to lose both.
  3. A wood file is called a rasp.
  1. You shouldn’t go all winter without washing your car. The salt they put down on the roads isn’t great for your car.
  2. There is a big difference between “I want” and “I need” and you should learn it early.

  3. Asking for help isn’t always easy, but there is no shame in it.

  4. It is important to say things like “I love you” and “I’m proud of you”, but only say it when you mean it.

  5. You are never too old to dream.

  6. You don’t have to learn everything the hard way. It’s just as easy to learn from somebody else’s mistakes as it is to make those same mistakes on your own, but far less painful.

  7. Life is not fair. Anybody who says differently is either selling something or too stupid for you to be associated with.

  8. Never underestimate the value of a good education.

  9. If you would be ashamed to tell your parents, your spouse, your kids, etc. about it, you probably shouldn’t do it in the first place.

  10. There is a big difference between a friend and an acquaintance. Don’t confuse the two. A friend is far more valuable.

  11. Prejudice is another word for ignorance.

  12. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

And so much more. 

Happy Father’s Day to my dad. And to all the rest out there who are doing the best they can.

 

Better Than Champions

On Sunday evening the Mississippi State University Women’s Basketball team played in the National Championship game. They lost on a heartbreaking shot in the last three seconds. I won’t comment on the officiating, though I want to. As a Bulldog fan, I have loved watching our team play. They work hard and watching them on the court is a beautiful thing.

Off the court, they’re still amazing. Our starting five included the Homecoming Queen, one of the tallest players in college basketball, one of the shortest, the coach’s daughter, and a single mother. They’ve each faced hardships beyond trying to balance getting a college education while busting it to make every practice, every game, every moment count on the court. Together, they are a national story because of their teamwork. Off the court, they’re just as awe-inspiring.

Victoria Vivians is the MSU Homecoming Queen from a tiny interstate town. She wrote an article last year for The Players’ Tribune in which she admitted to being incredibly shy. Being recruited for college athletics, playing on the national stage, and this year being crowned student body royalty hasn’t been easy. Yet, she has handled it with strength, beauty, and grace.

Teaira McCowan is 6’7”. She is a beautiful and talented lady, but she has been open in interviews about not always being comfortable in her own skin. She was 6’4” in middle school. When her brothers would go play basketball outside, she would stay indoors and watch because she didn’t want to be ostracized for her size by other kids. She also talks about being bullied because other kids wouldn’t believe she was their age, believing instead that she had been held back several grades because of her height. McCowan could be a poster child for not letting the bullies get you down. Her teammates jokingly call her a diva, laughing along with her when she gets caught making faces or striking a pose behind them or her coaches during on-court interviews. Now, she’s not just comfortable in her own skin, she’s the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year.

Morgan William, whose official height is listed at 5’5”, isn’t tall. When she told her father she wanted to play basketball, he didn’t sugar coat it for her about how hard it would be. But she didn’t give up, and neither did he. William’s father would start her day with extra practices at dawn. Drills, sprints, grueling work. It paid off when she was recruited to play for MSU, but it was a payoff that her father would never see. William unexpectedly lost her father during her senior year of high school. She had to take the court in college knowing her father would never be in the crowd, but she carried him with her anyway. Now, she has played in the national title game twice. And has dedicated a legendary Final Four buzzer beater shot to her dad’s memory.

Blair Schaefer is the daughter of head coach Vic Schaefer. Her father has been voted Coach of the Year by the WBCA. That’s a lot to live up to. And it hasn’t always been easy. As an underclassman, she thought seriously about transferring. She wasn’t getting the playing time she wanted, despite her numbers. Coach Schaefer told her she needed to come to his office just like any other player. He separated his role as her coach from his role as her father. No special treatment. Which is what Blair had to remember as she sat in his office and listened to her coach, her father, tell her that she had work to do. He cited her turnover rate, among other things, as reasons she wasn’t getting the playing time she wanted. It lit a fire under Blair. She took a break after the season was over and came back ready to play. Since that moment, Blair has busted her tail and worked her way into the starting five. Off the court, she scored an internship with Entertainment Tonight last summer. Her teammates have witnessed her work ethic first hand and have no doubt about her chances of success. The team says they can’t wait to see her on camera in the future. Her dad might be her coach, but Blair is a stand-out all on her own.

Roshunda Johnson is more than a college athlete. She’s a mom. Her son, Malaki, turned two last week. It’s a struggle and Johnson has said it isn’t always easy, but she has the support of her family and her son’s father. Stil, there are times, especially when she is traveling for games that she only gets to talk to her son on the phone while he stays with his grandmother. An article from earlier this month in the Clarion-Ledger, the leading newspaper in Mississippi, quoted both Johnson and her son’s father when talking about how difficult it has been to come back to basketball. She’s dealt with pain, both physical and emotional, but that hasn’t kept her from success both in the classroom and on the court.

Each of these women has dealt with their own share of obstacles and struggles. They lost the national championship, but every one of them is a winner. More than that, each one of them is a role model for what determination and hard work can do.

So when or if you see Mississippi State fans, like me, wishing our seniors well and giving the team our support and respect even after coming in second, you know why. Trophy or not, these women are champions. We’ll see them as nothing less. The cry of my alma mater is Hail State. It’s a simple phrase, but it can serve as a greeting, a salutation, a cheer, or that thing to say among ourselves when nothing else seems quite right. Our five starters–four seniors and a junior–have bright futures ahead, but they let us be a part of their journey and it has been awesome. To each of them, I say thank you and Hail State.

Slicker Than Owl Shit and Other Colorful Southern Sayings

I grew up in the South. I was born in rural Mississippi, lived for a brief few years in Florida during elementary and middle school, moved to Alabama as a teenager, came back to Mississippi for college, moved to Tennessee afterward, and now I’ve circled back to Mississippi again. Don’t get me wrong, I have lived other places here and there. I have traveled to other parts of the world and I have loved and appreciated beauty beyond my own backyard, but there is something about the South that always calls me back home. My roots are here, my family is here, and down here I don’t stick out like a sore thumb. Most of the time.

In the South, we learn there is always more than one way to do things. The cotillion and debutante ball crowd have a way of doing things, and the bumpkins from the backwater have another. Thanks to the strange and wonderful characters who dominated my childhood, I’m schooled in both. My mom was a debutante, but we were all from the backwater. I can bless your heart or butter your butt and call you a biscuit. I’m multi-talented like that.

In the South, we “bumpkins” tend to be particularly descriptive. We have to be. Satellite and GPS can’t find us, and there aren’t an abundance of street signs, so giving someone directions can take some very specific landmarks. Beyond that, there isn’t a lot to do in the middle of nowhere sometimes, so storytelling is in our blood. We sit around sharing anecdotes to pass the time. We could sit around telling stories that start off by saying it was hot, or we can talk about how it was hotter than blue blazes, hotter than a two dollar pistol, or hotter than the seventh circle of Hell. With all those options, hot doesn’t really seem to cover it anymore. Hot is boring. Hotter than a goat’s butt in a pepper patch is illustrative.

It works with cold, too. It might be freezing, but there is no need to use such mundane language. Not when you can say, “It’s as cold as a well digger’s ass in the Klondike out there!” Or, even, “It’s as cold as a witches tit in a brass bra in Wichita in the winter time!”

 

Of course, we have equally articulate sayings about topics other than the weather. For instance, if something is quite slippery, be it object or person, it is “slicker than owl shit.” Just how slick is that? Well, in the words of my own father, “Pretty damn slick.”

And if something is extremely rich and thick, it can be described as “three feet up a bull’s ass.” I’ve heard this used to describe decadent desserts. Ponder that for a moment.

We also have important words of wisdom to pass along to all who may need guidance in this world. And by guidance, I, of course, mean a huge old-fashioned reality check. Precious, timeless gems like “if you’re gonna be dumb, you better be tough,” and “the only place you will find sympathy around here is in the dictionary.” The latter of those two has an extended version, but I think I’ve already used enough curse words for one post. I do avoid them when I can.

And while you all know that someone who is caught off guard, and looks a little nervous looks like “a deer in the headlights”, they can also be “as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockin’ chairs.”

And we could tell someone to grow up and act like an adult. Or, and hear me out on this, you can tell them to put their big girl panties on and deal with it.

I have no earthly idea where these things originated, but when using a few of these quips in front of people who are not at all accustomed to my way of life, I have been met with more than few quizzical looks followed by “Excuse me?”

You should try it sometime. It’s fun.

crazy cocktail

Of course, don’t be fooled by the prim and proper way of saying things in these parts either. That little old lady from who you got directions back to the highway? When she said, “Bless your heart, I know you must be road weary,” what she really meant was, “You look like hell. Please get off my property before people start to think we know each other.”

I am sure there are other sayings from around the country, or even the world, which are equally hysterical and I assure you, I would love to know them. Please pass them on.

And so it begins…

Welcome to my blog! I’m just getting started, but have no fear. My little list loving heart already has a few topics hidden up its sleeve.  For starters, I will be posting book reviews and I’ll be starting a series called Ten Things on the Tenth, which will consist of a grouping of ten facts you might not know about whatever topic has presented itself during my research. As you can imagine, as a science fiction writer, a lot of my writing time is actually research time. If you can’t write what you know, write what you can thoroughly research! And sometimes I get sidetracked from my pertinent research because I’m a nerd and love to learn. I’ll share a few snippets from my findings with you along the way.

I will also provide pertinent updates to my own writing career, links to valuable resources from other authors, and probably a few photos from my neck of the woods. Like this very telling gem:

Your GPS is Wrong

Because where I’m from, even Google and Siri get lost. Yes, this is an actual street sign. It’s about a mile from my house.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope I haven’t scared you off just yet. My particular brand of crazy isn’t dangerous, but it might be contagious. Subscribe at your own risk.