Friday, April 25, 2008

A Mini Rant about Manners

I've been thinking about this for a while. After reading a Garrison Keillor column about the lack of manners in today's society (Yeah, let's hear it for manner lessons preached with humor!), I decided to list my own personal peeves. Sounding peckish here (a lot of "p" words, hmmm...), probably because I'm not sleeping. Always happens when a story grabs me by the brain cells and won't let go. Enough of me. Back to the manners thing.

One of my favorites is the cute young thing who insists on calling me by my first name. She could be a receptionist in the dentist's office, the insurance agent's front desk person, or the cashier at the bank. Young enough to be trainable, I hope. "We can see you at 11 a.m., Tracy. Dr. Goodteeth just had a cancellation." Now, if my tooth hadn't just cracked in half, I'd set her straight. Rusty (Dr. Goodteeth) and I have been together for twenty odd years now, and I don't care if he calls me Tracy. But this twenty-year-old chit of a girl needs to address me as a young whippersnapper should address her elders. In the South, "Miz Tracy," is just fine. "Mrs. Dunham" is more correct, but I'll let that slip. Even, "Ma'am, the doctor can see you..." works in the South.

I have been known, much to the chagrin of my spawn, to correct said young whippersnappers. In a kindly manner, much as a grandmother would use. "Sweetie, I'm old enough to have changed your diapers. In these parts, unless I did change your britches, you may address me as 'Mrs. Dunham.' If I did change your panties, and I'd remember if I had, you are permitted to call me 'Miss Tracy.' " My children, of course, are crawling into a hole in the ground. Believe me, they know better. They address their elders with proper respect, or they'll hear from mama.

My husband, I must preface this rant, is a very good man. A man of inherent good manners and much grace, including infinite kindness. He'll stop to pick up strangers on the street who are gesturing desperately for a ride. He offers jobs to those people standing in the median strip with signs saying "Homeless. Hungry." And he buys them lunch if they are willing to work for a him. (Only one man ever took him up on his offer.) But, as a native of Chicago, he didn't learn to say "Yes, ma'am. No, ma'am." I knew this when I married him. Along with his hatred of fresh tomatoes (sigh), it's his only failing. I was, however prepared. Our family repeated the following iconic story often.

My mother, during her childhood pre-WW II, lived for a year in a Chicago suburb. Her parents, being proper Southerners, taught her to say "yes, ma'am," etc., when addressing her elders. One day, her teacher sent home a note from school saying "Judith must cease speaking like a servant when she talks to me. "Ma'am" is a sign of servitude and inferiority."

My grandmother's wrath and outrage would have been a sight to behold. Wish I could have seen it. As the story was repeated quite often to describe the loutishness of Yankees, I grew accustomed to its moral. Yankees don't know diddly about good manners and the proper graces. Other Yankee peculiarities came to the fore in other stories. Being invited to dinner, then told to bring a "covered dish" of a certain type. Who invites guests to dinner then insists they feed themselves? Only Yankees. I could go on, but you get my drift. There's a social divide that has nothing to do with geography. It's all about manners.

When someone provides a service and one thanks that person, the common response today is "no problem." I want to stomp my foot and ask what happened to "you're welcome." Or even, as was once common in the South, "my pleasure." Yet today the South is slipping into the maw of a mannerless morass. I fear it's the fault of all those Yankees who've moved down here and bought their newMcMansions and expect to fit into society because they drive Beemers. I wish someone would tell them it's not going to happen. "Society" in the South is still ruled with the iron fist in the white glove by ladies who may not have two nickels to their names, but their grandmother's pearls are heirlooms still worn today, their sterling came down through the family for generations, and they were educated at Miss Jennie's, as were their mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers. And Miss Jennie's doesn't accept girls without the proper pedigree and impeccable manners.

Manners will get you places, my mama and grandmothers always preached. I still think they're right.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Short Track Season and Gettin' It done

The writing flows, the futuristic has me guessing (I love it when a story surprises me), and I've finished judging the contest entries I agreed to judge way back when I thought I'd have time. It's too wet and rainy out to do yard work, so I'm pretty much keeping the hands on the keyboard. Last weekend's Nationwide race in Mexico City didn't hold my attention, so I saved four hours there! Yep, keeping the fanny in the desk chair is paying off.

Since it's a week and a half until the Richmond races, this is good. Once next Monday hits, I'm going into tailgating overdrive. Gotta get the race gear loaded, menus planned, and the flags ready to fly from the flagpole on the truck. After seven straight weekends of rain, I'm praying we're done with this batch of wet, and we'll finally have a lovely Friday and Saturday for racin'. The racing gods owe me a good one after the rain and cold in Martinsville.

It's all good from here on out. . . the cold weather is history, the trees have leaves, and I'm ready for summer and summer's races at my local short track.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Life Intervenes

Sigh. The writing has taken a step back because I've been inundated with . . . life. Too many volunteer activities turning into full-time jobs. I need to step back and let the distractions fall into the shadows while I turn the light up on the writing. Revisions, new stuff, queries, the business part of writing, take a lot of energy and time. I must learn to say NO to the other stuff, although I believe strongly in giving back to nonprofit organizations that need help.

Then there's the four hours I wasted this morning. The state bar association won't like me saying this, but I just killed brain cells in a continuing legal education seminar on ethics. Yeah, ethics. If I don't have ethics by now, I think it's a lost cause. Five hundred men in bow ties and dark suits give off vibes that aren't pleasant, particularly when they're stressing over such life-altering topics as metadata in attachments and accepting credit card payments for trust accounts. Yes, moving, stirring, soul-searching topics.

Tomorrow, I'm ignoring email, forgetting today, working on my book, and getting into a better place, LOL.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Spring, Texas Wrecks, and Blessings

I'll bet Michael McDowell is counting his blessings,big time, after barrel-rolling eight times after hitting the wall during qualifying yesterday. If anyone has any complaints about the new car, I suggest you keep them to yourself. The SAFER barrier and the new car saved the rookie driver's life, hands down. Enough said. He'll be racing Sunday, in another car of course, and I'll bet he'll remember every second of that race because he almost wasn't in it.

The rains have continued their weekend appearance, the tulips are up, my lilies of the valley are spreading like wildfire, and the azaleas are just gorgeous. Happy days are here! I'm still working like crazy to cut some hundred-odd pages from DEAD CALM, but it's downhill from here. As Michael McDowell is probably saying, "Life is good."

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Cold, Rain, Wind, and the Race Fan

Boy howdy, was Martinsville a true test of fortitude for race fans. Sleet awoke us early on race day, and while it gave way to rain, the weather didn't offer us much of a break. Forty-one degrees and a steady drizzle, combined with a stiff wind, scattered a ton of fans before a hundred laps were completed. If the race hadn't been so good, we would have left as well. Took two days for me to feel my feet again. Fan Fest with Tony Stewart was a hoot - he's funny and self-deprecating, and totally himself. Even better, the tent where the fest was held provided some protection from the wind. I seriously considered staying in it and watching the race on our Fan View, but what kind of die hard fan would that make me? So we toughed it out in the stands and were rewarded with one heck of a race.

Now it's time to crack down and get serious about cutting 120 pages from the Golden Oars mystery. Forty pages down, eighty to go, but I'm seeing holes that need plugging. Sigh. That means adding chapters. Keeping it under 450 pages is going to be a trick, LOL. That's the trouble with writing "long," it never feels right to cut. A main subplot has to go, and while I'm not happy about it, it's already in the "delete" pile. By the way, has anyone ever heard of a rose named Fred? It's a favorite joke in this book, but it had to go away to make room for a red herring. Someday, it'll show up again, and I hope everyone else laughs as much as I did over it. Can't claim credit - my co-author, Kat Jorgensen, came up with the hilarious set-up and Fred the rose. Gives you an idea of how zany this book is. . . .

Looking forward to the Richmond race in May. Here's hoping it's warmer than Martinsville.