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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Out of My Southern Comfort Zone

I'm a city girl. I was born in San Diego, I started school in Chicago, I went to high school in Denver. Living in major urban populations makes me comfortable. I like being in the middle of the hustle and bustle. Besides, cities have things you can't find in the rural areas, like fine dining and side walks.

Seriously... why aren't there sidewalks in the South?

It doesn't matter. I moved to the Deep South in the fall off 2000 to get a degree in marine biology. I'd wanted to be a marine biologist since I was, like, two or something ridiculous like that, and I didn't want to change that goal because it meant failing. I had it memorized: I was getting a Ph.D. in marine biology from UCSD (not in Florida by the way). I was going to get my undergrad and maybe my masters out of the way in a smaller private university, then move to UCSD "at home" for my doctorate. I planned on spending no more than six years in the Scary South and I was going to have my doctorate by the time I turned twenty-eight.

I haven't left the Deep South yet. Florida, Kentucky, Texas, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina... For twelve years I've meandered around a world where college football and fried food reign supreme. It is nothing like my SoCal roots. Most the people here do not discuss organic star fruit or doing working vacations where you spend two weeks planting crops or building houses in a foreign country (although I've met some who do). Most the people in the little town I live in now went to the same school their parents did. One teacher I met has taught four generations at the local school, she's been there since her early 20s and plans on staying until she dies.

People around here ride four-wheelers, carry guns, and like horses. Maybe it's proof that I was dropped on my head as a child, but I've never liked horses. The first horse story I remember hearing was one where a horse kicked a little boy and killed him. Thanks all the same, but I'd rather swim with sharks any day of the week. At least with sharks I know what to expect.

A few weeks ago, as high school football season kicked back into gear, I found myself craving the city life. I missed all the little luxuries that city dwellers take for granted: shopping, movies, gyms.... SIDEWALKS!!!! When I go for zombie runs I have to do it with one earbud out so I can listen for bears! And I jump over sticks! Really, I just wanted to get back to "normal"...

Until I realized cotton fields and spiders that inspired Shelob are normal.

I've spent nearly half my life in the Deep South. I know all the jokes. I think it's funny when northerners come down and order "tea" (y'all... tea is served cold and has sugar). I don't blink an eye at tortilla chips shaped like Texas, or chilies hung on Christmas trees, or seeing alligators sunning near the road. All my kids have been raised between blue bonnets and cotton fields.

Would I love to take my kids to see Sue the T. Rex at the Chicago Field Museum? Of course I would! And one day, I will. But rural living ain't so bad. The kids are growing up knowing where eggs come from (we're the only people who don't keep chickens in the yard), they see goats and horses every day. They've picked cotton and spun it on a wooden spinning wheel. They've milked goats, fed pigs, seen a bald eagle in the wild (regularly), and they climb trees daily. That's something you can't have in the city.

The South has slipped into my writing too. I didn't think about it much until a friend asked about some of the setting for my books. EVEN VILLAINS FALL IN LOVE is set in Texas, a place I've spent many a year in, not to mention half my childhood holidays. JANE DOE is set in a little Alabama town much like the one we lived in. Saw grass, fire ants, and cotton with the scent of jasmine perfuming the evening breeze... that's part of the South.

And, when my husband told me it looked like his job would whisk us northwards next year, I admit I wasn't as happy as I thought I would be. The job offer will move us to a major city: museums, ballet, architecture, fine dining, gyms... SIDEWALKS!!! I really miss having sidewalks. But it means giving up a slower way of life. Of moving back to a place where I probably can't get away with wearing ten-year-old faded jeans for every single social function. It means no more giant spiders and dew drops on webs like crystals on a chandelier. It means no more farm fresh eggs and cheese from the dairy ten miles away. It means no more quirky Southern Grandmas with their thick accents, fried chicken, and shot guns.

I went outside after the phone call and started taking some pictures of the yard. Noticing, again, all the little things that made me fall in love with this house when we found it a year ago. The spiders. The dew drops. The fading blue paint on the back pasture fence...

The move is still months away, we want to finish the school year here. And I know my gypsy blood will want to start wandering when spring arrives. I love to travel, and a new city means new friends and a new adventure. I have a new language to learn, a new culture to adapt to, and I'll truly be moving out of my Southern Comfort Zone.


  1. I moved from the South to New England a few months ago. It was like coming home. Hooray for the North! :)

    1. There's SNOW up there! And seasons. And y'all talk funny!

      ... I don't actually have a Southern accent.

      The north has some advantages, but there are still very rural parts of the north that are just like down here: no sidewalks. And then they add snow! *the horror*

    2. At least they know how to deal with snow up here, there... :)