The thing about deep cultural knowledge is that you don’t realize you have it until a piece of your culture gets appropriated.
I have never considered myself particularly Southern, at least in the way that people take ‘Southern’ to mean. I do not frequently use y’all. When I ask for a Coke I do not mean some other carbonated beverage (and I don’t drink it all that much). I’m not a Republican. Or a Christian. I do not wear pearls. I do not cheer for SEC football. I do not like bluegrass music and I play the violin, not the fiddle.
But if there is one aspect of Southern cultural heritage I claim as my birthright (besides excellent taste in bourbon and a kickass biscuit recipe), it is the way we do things with words. The way southerners speak is wonderful beyond explanation. The molasses slow pace of stories; the odd idioms that come from a much older English (“vittels” from “victuals” meaning food); the blunt imagery (like someone’s having been ‘hit by the ugly stick’) and obscure use of prepositions (‘Where you at?’); the creative use of multiple modals (“I used to could ride a bike and I might could ride again someday”). It is so thick as to add a whole ‘nother layer to the sonic sphere.
As usual, this year brought some Nobel buzz for Japanese author Haruki Murakami, who is best known in North America for works such as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore, and 1Q84. Also as usual, he did not win, much to the disappointment of his devoted fans.
It so happens that I spent much of the weeks leading up to giving birth lying on the couch rereading his novels. Not in preparation for news from Sweden but because I wanted to finally deal with them systematically, rather than picking up a novel every few years and racing through, only to end up on the last page, scratching my head and wondering “What the hell just happened here?”
She had forgotten her strict policy of never wearing open toed shoes in college libraries. The seemingly sub-zero temperatures were not exactly a boon to her concentration. She kept falling asleep on her computer keys, waking up three and a half seconds later with dreams of plaid jackets and wool socks left unfinished and dangling over her head. Not the socks. The dreamssszzz…
It was not easy to finish a paper about conceptual islands. They were all turning to icebergs, and her stomach couldn’t take another cup of coffee. She sneezes. Must be pneumonia. Some teenage girl with thick glasses and a tacky engagement ring shoots her a look over the pages of Nervous Conditions. This makes her chuckle slightly, which makes glasses girl role her eyes and bury herself back in the book. She wonders if she looks like a professor yet, chuckling and sneezing to herself behind a laptop in the corner of the library. Perhaps.
Having recently relocated to the middle of nowhere in the North Georgia hills, I have adopted the habit of shopping at Wal-Mart.* The new tenant of an older home, I find myself frequently thinking things like, “Crap, we’re out of cereal, and we need a door knob.” Well, that’s just two birds who’d better watch out, because they’re about to be totally killed with one stone. Unfortunately, these trips have been taking place right after jogging, at length, in the Georgia heat, so I spend half an hour staring at ten dollar lawn chairs wondering dehydration induced things like, “Is plastic waterproof?” This is how I came home with a gigantic jar of instant coffee yesterday. Having replenished my electrolytes and lowered my body temperature, I took it out of the plastic bag and thought, “What the hell is this?” Then I retraced my sweat soaked steps and remembered why it had been so appealing, sitting there on the jumbled and mislabeled shelf, an orphaned form of caffeine.