A Call to Love America

 

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A wall in my patriotic foyer

I have been largely silent with my blog for several weeks for two large reasons. It’s report card and report card conference time and my primary work by necessity takes priority over working on my fourth novel, my writing life in general, and basically all other areas of my life. This is nothing new, there are known stretches in a teacher’s year where the work of an educator overshadows everything.

The second reason, however, has been eating away at me. As a writer, I naturally turn to express myself with my pen, or in modern terms my keyboard. I have been bothered by so much that has happened in our country over the recent past and in particular the lack of civility in our political discourse. Yet I don’t wish to write a political piece and if you read on, I hope you will agree with me that this is indeed a bi-partisan expression, rather than a taking of sides.

I grew u in a military family and being patriotic, loving our country and being emotionally stirred by our anthem, flag and taps played on Post in the evening was not something reserved for a few holidays each year, but part of our daily living. I remember as a teenager being upset when my daddy retired, albeit partly because my parents wanted me to be able to complete high school in one place. If he wasn’t an army officer anymore, then who were we as a family?

I think it took until after college for me to identify as an American civilian and yet I still chose to serve my country as a public school teacher. All my years teaching I have led students each morning in the saying of the pledge, indoctrinating them into this basic exercise of patriotism and hopefully conveying a respect and reverence for our great nation.

The lens I view America in is influenced by our family’s years in military service, my college educated parents and the financial security we lived in and I realize that my experience is not the same of many of my fellow Americans who have experienced much more difficult paths simply because of the color of their skin, their religion, or even their economic status. Yet so many of these fellow Americans love America just as I do and some possibly more, as they have had to have much more faith in that American dream that my experience had somewhat taken for granted.

I have a bachelors and a Master’s degree and my bachelor’s degree is in political science, I love history and government, but one thing I learned in studying our political history is that there has always been an ugly side to it. Even our founding fathers were subject to slander and mocking words and cartoons. There have been periods in time when lines have been crossed and extremists have taken devastating and illegal steps, think John Wilkes Booth. But it seems that in these modern times it has reached beyond the public political figures to private citizens, opposing sides claiming the opposition is somehow evil and that we should not tolerate people who are different from ourselves. To say it’s disturbing is an understatement in my opinion.

So what is a patriot, a lover of America to do?  I would say turn away from the two dark paths of vitriolic rhetoric from the left and the right and chose the illuminated path in the middle, have civil discourse on issues, keep the focus on issues, have a basic respect and empathy for all human beings. Work to solve problems rather than just assign blame regardless of whether it is well-founded or not. It would be nice if this could be exemplified from the leadership of our country top down, but if the last couple of years are any indicator, I think that is unlikely to happen.

But here is one of the great things about America, we as a people, from the ground up are quite powerful in bringing about change. We were formed by a revolution, we have changed the conditions in this country, not just by passing laws, but by movements that brought women the right to vote, improved conditions for workers, and civil rights. Who says we can’t do it again. If we as a society reject incivility and ugly rhetoric, if we as a society focus on our shared love of country and a mutual respect for fellow human beings we can bring about the change.

While I have no intention of leading a national movement, I know that choices I make in my daily life on how I treat others can have a ripple effect with all I come in contact with. If enough of us do it the kindness will grow and swell until those at the top will be influenced to change their ways.

So I’m using my small little blog that is usually about southern life and how that influences the writing of my novels to advocate for an issue that is dear to my heart and too important to ignore.

LOVE America! Love it enough to choose love over hate.

 

 

In the Stack

 

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My latest book stack. In the foreground are the three I just read, in the background are my anticipated reads.

 

I’d like to thank my book club for bringing diversity into my reading life. It might surprise you to learn that as a writer of southern women’s fiction I am a huge fan of reading mysteries, and I can trace that all the way back to my Nancy Drew days. Right now my favorite stories on the telly as they would say in my favorite genre are British mystery series like Father Brown, Miss Fisher, and Midsomer Murders.

While I have also read a ton of women’s fiction over the years, the book club I’m in has brought before my eyes, dystopias, biographies, dark fiction, historical fiction and the list goes on. I am richer for it, not just as a writer but as a human. After all one of the great joys of books is exploring new worlds, ideas, and possibilities we would never encounter in our everyday lives.

Books or at least pamphlets, inspired schisms in the church, revolutions in countries and other world-changing events. I’m not saying anything that earth shattering is in my current stack, but from every book I read, fiction or non-fiction I gain a different perspective on humanity and expand my own empathy towards others and ideas on living.

No matter high-tech this world becomes or how pervasive social media becomes, books will have an enduring place. Social Media has the power to spread messages, true or false in lightning time, but the messages are just the headlines, not the in-depth examination of the human condition or revolutionary ideas. Books are where we can explore and understand. A book must hold up to much more scrutiny as to the validation of its facts and examination of its ideas.

We, humans, have a primal need to express our thoughts and communicate our ideas and we use a wide variety of art and media to do so. To me, books are the most important form we have. The one invention of the printing press centuries ago has allowed words and ideas to be shared through time and we have not stopped sharing words around the world since.

No matter if your stack sits on a bedside table as mine, or in a queue on a digital device, keep stacking and keep reading, you will be richer for it.

Cultural Lessons

 

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Photo my friend Sally sent me from a shop in Hilton Head, SC

I enjoy aspects of many cultures around the world. Some of that comes from growing up in a nomadic military family and some from being an avid reader of novels set all over the world. Both inspired me to be open to visiting those places and adopting from those cultures customs I could enjoy in my own life.

When my friend Sally sent me this picture from a shop in nearby Hilton Head, South Carolina, it made me smile. I have a slight addiction to bags anyway (a tale for another time), but the message spoke to my soul. I might add the line, Live American, I absolutely love our country. I also think living American means appreciating the best the world has to offer and melding that into our own culture, we have been doing that for well over two-hundred years. I personally think that is what makes America a vibrant nation.

I might also change a few of the lines, I might Speak Kindness, Eat Italian, Love French and Read British, but one thing I would not change is, Smile Southern. Kindness and hospitality are still a hallmark of southern living. We need to be vigilant to keep that so and I dare say we should work hard to export it to the rest of the country and the world. My inner flower child thinks that what the world needs more than anything these days is love, kindness, empathy and yes lots of smiles.

Here in the south, we have our own way of dressing, cooking, decorating, gardening and storytelling. This lifestyle needs to be celebrated and preserved with care. I get alarmed when yet another charming local business in downtown Charleston is replaced by another national chain business you can find in any city around the country. I’m not opposed to those businesses, but I think they need to be off in a mall somewhere, not on a historic street. I had the same reaction when in London and Paris and saw shops like The GAP on prominent city streets, I wanted uniquely French and uniquely British.

Along that same vein, I think if you want to move here and live here, y’all are welcome as long as you respect and adopt our ways. We don’t cut people off in traffic or exhibit impatience when we need to wait in line. Above all use words of kindness, slow down and take time for conversation and above all smile and return smiles offered.

A smile is a simple thing that doesn’t cost a thing, yet it reaps goodwill and respect. It opens doors and lifts spirits. No matter where you’re from or what language you speak, adopt the practice of a Southern smile and I promise good things will follow.