I’m Gulf Coastal Southern and most of the time my stories are flavored with southernisms. Rick Bragg recently noted in Southern Living that the way to tell if you’re a true southern writer inducted into the canon is if you have a tale that includes a dead mule somewhere. To set the record straight there is no dead mule in this tale, just a two-legged “varmint.” Since my only accomplishment in dead mule territory is that I actually remembered that a mule is a hybrid of a horse and a jackass I don’t think I’m canon fodder yet.
I’ve been “home” on Perdido Bay since early March dealing with my grandparents’ old beach cottage, which got flooded from an old hot water heater that busted. It’s been about a 2-year saga with demolition, mold removal, new tile installed, baseboards replaced and new kitchen cabinets plus cleaning construction dust from every single item in the house from curtains down to lowly pencils. I had planned to leave by early April to go back up north. It didn’t quite work out. It’s now 3 months later and I won’t be leaving for at least another month. On top of the stress of construction on the cottage with the manana attitude here on the coast, I was behind in everything—professional work and the promises I made to myself to complete my own writing project.
The proverbial glaze on the Krispy Kreme (my cake of choice) was that one of the “idjits” hired to work on the house in my absence decided that since no one was around for months at a time on a decent sized piece of property and with me, being a mere woman and all and thus not worth taking much notice of, he could just move in. And move in, he did. Not only did he move in with a trailer, shed and a construction project near the big barn but when I returned and freaked out at the damage he had done to the property he proceeded in an arrogant marijuana haze to inform me that he had done me a favor and that I was taking advantage of him!
I’m not a gun person but there was a brief moment when I felt like unlocking the gun cabinet and getting my granddaddy’s old shotgun out and blowing a hole through the windows of “the varmint’s” 14 vee—hic--uls, yes, I am not exaggerating, 14 junky cars that he parked on the property after clear-cutting about a half acre of woods to accommodate them. That’s just for starters. It is truly a long, long southern tale and best told in the oral tradition with something alcoholic in hand. See what I mean, no dead mule but a stinky ole worthless piece of trash, low-life, no good varmint. I never said that to him but you will be somewhat cheered to know I didn’t cry in front of him when he told me off. I sputtered and gasped but I managed to hold back the tears.
Feeling overwhelmed with life and work, I knew something had to give so it seemed obvious that all the time I spend on the World Wide Web was the logical place to start. I don’t just mean surfing around or buying stuff. I’m talking about networking with 4 email addresses, 2 blogs, 4 social networking sites, co-admining a group on one, keeping up with a fan page on another and 2 websites of my own. And oh, by the way, I’m not young and I’m technically challenged so off the grid I went with a couple of brief explanations and letting those who needed to know, know.
I’m finally able to come back out of the cold or rather heat since it’s hot as hell here right now and climb back on the surfboard. After my time off I have some observations about social networking because being southern if there is anything I know about, it’s social networking. At first I felt out of sync not checking all the email, messages, etc every single day. It was almost like a withdrawal. I felt weird and disoriented as if perhaps I don’t exist if I don’t exist online. The few times I snuck a quick peek I definitely felt like I was the last person to get asked to the prom. Gradually though, I found myself on the phone much more, that beloved instrument of all southern women who love to talk (that would be me). I sat on the bluff at night with a glass of wine and had long talks with childhood friends. I made lunch for my 86-year-old mother on a regular basis and drove her around to take care of various errands she had been unable to accomplish on her own. I gradually let it all out about the stress I have been under for a long time and started to ask for help.
Everyone jumped in without hesitation. One of my close friends who is a retired attorney offered to help me go through some of the daunting legal research files I have to work through in order to complete my grandfather’s biography. The 86 year old having had a career as a writer, editor and publisher for at least 60 years or more offered to help me organize all my files for the bio and my adorable bubba brother-in-law took on the thankless task of getting the shiftless guys who were supposed to be working on the little cottage whipped into shape. Social networking at its best! I began to see real progress in the mountain of things to be accomplished and I got into a rhythm that included working outside in the old established garden beds and walking on the beach, sailing and swimming and here’s the best part—I made huge inroads into my own writing project that has always been at the bottom of the list.
There is no happy ever after ending to this tale. The varmint and all but one of his junky cars are gone but his trailer and a lot of his stuff is still lying around and I’m trying to get the barn secured before hurricane season starts in earnest. I don’t need huge metal barn doors which he somehow managed to pull off their tracks able to fly up into trees if the winds howl over 90 miles an hour. (See jackass above.) I’m seeing the family lawyer tomorrow to take whatever necessary steps I need to in order to start any legal proceedings. There’s still a long list of things to take care of here at the house and in my work but I feel much less stressed. I think I can pace myself now and perhaps say no to some things that won’t really help me in my work.
I knew I was ready to go back online when I began to wonder how everyone was doing and starting to miss hearing from my friends out there on the web. It hasn’t taken that much to get back in touch and let people know what happened and how I’m doing. Everyone has been kind and quick with lots of amusing responses to my tale. I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that it’s okay not to feel pressured to immediately answer everything and everyone but to use some discernment. It’s also okay to take some time off to accomplish the work itself. The whole point of a social networking site like SheWrites is to be able to talk about one’s work, share insights and information and not be afraid to ask for help. The bottom line is doing the work in order to have something to talk about.
Being in the south again for a good long stretch of time and getting back into southern rhythms and mores has reminded me that all the things about social networking in life are the same on the web. It’s helpful to be organized and aware of time and the flow of energy from busy doing to just sitting for a spell. It’s important to communicate politely and let your community know what’s going on to keep the fabric of community functioning well. And just as important as it is to give it’s also important to be able to ask for help. That’s social networking and that’s community online and off. Sooner or later I swear I’ll get in a dead mule somehow.