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My Dawson Neighbor

fullsizeoutput_1a19Early one morning as I dashed toward the gym from my car, virtually unrecognizable to the world with my scraped-back pony tail, inch-thick glasses, and no make-up, (I hope you are getting the full mental picture of this because only Jesus and a dog could love me in this state) a friend called out to me from the sidewalk.

“How are those Baptists treating you?” she shouted in a way-too-loud voice for 6:15 am.

“What do you mean?” I responded in a much more appropriate decibel for pre-dawn conversation.

“You’re Episcopalian!” she pointed out, as if I didn’t know this already. “You think they’re going to let you in?”

That encounter got me thinking which almost always leads to trouble or, at the very least, an essay, article, or if I really can’t help it, a book. I’m a writer. One phrase or something I witness or overhear can infect my imagination like the throw-up virus. I have to vomit it all on paper—or my laptop, to be precise. Although my handwriting looks like an illiterate kidnapper penning a ransom note, I can fly across a keyboard.

Real writers do not sit at beautiful desks in front of stained-glass windows sipping steaming mugs of tea waiting for God to send something down from a mountain top anymore, just in case you were wondering.

Inspiration comes at the most inconvenient times—when I’m trapped in a dark movie theater and have to crawl across the laps of moviegoers to scratch a few lines on the back of my ticket before I forget them or at 3 o’clock in the morning when I am lying awake beside my sleeping husband. He has the audacity to sleep peacefully through the night. I should be happy that he sleeps so well. Unfortunately, his sleep talent makes me want to bang a pot over his head with a wooden spoon to wake him up. Sometimes, I find myself a wee bit disappointing.

The pre-dawn hours are when my worries bubble up, real worries, like whether my children are texting and driving, and insignificant ones like whether or not I have enough cookies for the baby shower. I worry about my children, my aging parents, and work. I worry about what the world is coming to. In those dark hours, I can’t even pray. I can only repeat, over and over, “Please, Lord.” That’s when I begin to write. The first draft is always in my head.

This year, I had a terrible accident. I slipped on a sheet of ice and shattered my knee cap. After surgery and physical therapy, I was told to join a gym. I didn’t want to. Every step hurt.

I joined the FRC because I live in the neighborhood, and the gym is reasonably priced, safe, easy to navigate, and welcomes everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. I’m not the only woman in black leggings and a really big shirt! I’ve found encouragers there among staff and patrons, friends who’ve reared their children alongside mine, folks I’ve worked with in school concession stands or sat by at the pool or park.

I’ve lived in Homewood for over 30 years. I can see our tiny, first house from the one we live in today. Our family is a part of the community, and we’ve learned over the years that Dawson is a good neighbor.

My first encounter with Dawson was 20 years ago. Church members helped my elderly neighbors take down their Christmas tree. I never forgot that. I’ve watched Dawson answer the question of who is my neighbor again and again—by feeding the hungry, reaching out to Spanish-speaking mothers and children, taking loads of kids to camp, and by providing young men with courts for early-morning basketball games. When I exercise, I love to hear their back-and-forth ribbing of one another. It reminds me of my own children, aka the ungrateful wretches. (I called them that in a public radio interview. I didn’t think they’d ever hear about it. They did. Now it’s a family joke.)

For a while after the accident, I could only ride a stationary bike. Now, I walk on the elevated path in the gym 28 times around the court, two miles, and I watch the clouds and people through the large windows. I’ve observed little acts of kindness that moved me to tears—help for an elderly woman who could not park her car, a bike accident where an older child comforted a younger one, and a man who pulled over to buy a warm cup of watery lemonade just because a kid was selling it.

After a few months, something happened. To distract myself from the pain, I began to pray as I walked. At first, I used prayers that were familiar to me from The Book of Common Prayer and the liturgy I participate in every Sunday morning in my own parish, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. I prayed for the poor, those who mourn, the dying, the friendless, the hungry, the homeless, and for those who are alone. I prayed for my family, my church, our community, our country, and for people all over the world. I prayed for you. Each lap became a prayer litany, a labyrinth of meditation.

For me, working out at Dawson became a form of worship, a dedicated time for prayer. The words chiseled over the front entrance to the FRC say: “To Be Found Faithful as God’s People.” Dawson has been a faithful neighbor to this Episcopalian, a friend, and a much-needed prayer partner.

The Baptists did, indeed, let me in. I’m grateful.

 

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10 Funny Things That Happened To Me On Book Tours

if i were the boss

 

  1. While waiting for my turn to be interviewed on an early morning news segment, I was asked to hold a snow leopard cub in my lap while the zookeeper, also a guest on the show, dashed to the bathroom during a commercial break. This was the only story from my book tour that my young children found interesting.
  2. Green rooms are exciting. And, no, they aren’t all green. All sorts of people are crammed in there together waiting for interview slots on television. I’ve met famous musicians, politicians, and comedians. In a green room in Mississippi years ago, I got into such an animated conversation with a civil rights activist about the importance of neighborhood schools, the producer put us on air together to continue talking—an ordinary suburban mom writer and a civil rights icon. I think we made some good TV!
  3. Once in Charleston, an attractive, young, clearly hungover news reporter turned to me as we were both snaking our mics underneath our clothes and clipping them to our lapels and said: “Look, I didn’t have time to read your book. I’m just going to say your name and the title of your book, and then you can talk for 7-10 minutes. Ok?” “I can do that!” I responded gleefully. I could not have been happier.
  4. I was once introduced as the keynote speaker for a big gala event, made my way to the podium during the applause, opened my black plastic binder, and discovered—not my speech—but Bach. Yep. Bach. I had a binder, sure, but it was my black plastic CHOIR notebook—not my SPEECH notebook. To this day, I have no idea what I talked about for those 45 minutes.
  5. Sound systems are often infested with gremlins. They always check out fine before the event. It’s in the middle of the event when trouble starts. I once made the mistake of stepping out from behind my podium mic and in front of the repeating speakers. You can guess what happened. Horrible reverb. Over and over. I could see steam coming out of the event coordinator’s ears and hotel staff scrambling in the back of the room. I turned off my hand-held mic, moved from table to table to entertain as many folks as possible, and while running my mouth, shaped the long cord holding my mic into a pretend noose . . . sometimes, you have to find the funny.
  6. At a book event in a big city hotel, I was in mid-speech once when a domestic argument broke out in the catering kitchen behind me. It was so loud I had to stop speaking. Naturally, both the audience and I wanted to hear what was going to happen next in the kitchen drama which included accusations of cheating, vows of revenge, and death threats—way more interesting than my prepared remarks.
  7. In a live television interview, my book was introduced to the audience this way: “Melinda Rainey Thompson has written a wonderful new cookbook that I think you will all love!” Never written a cookbook in my life. That was a tough pivot.
  8. At every event, I always leave time for Q&A. It’s my favorite part because I never know what I will be asked. Some questions come up over and over, of course: “How did you get your book published?” “What do you like to read?” “Where do you get your ideas?” I answer those on autopilot. Funniest questions I’ve been asked on the road: “Where did you get your dress?” Answer: “Saks. Clearance rack.” “Can I take you to dinner after?” Answer: “Depends. Do you have any restraining orders against you?”
  9. Every author event has a person in the audience who has written a book he or she wants to pitch to me for publication. The problem is: I’m a WRITER—not a PUBLISHER.
  10. In every signing line at a book event, there is someone who wants to dictate how I will personalize their “Just write ‘to the best mother in the world,’” one reader instructed me. “To the smartest person I have ever met” was another request. My favorite request to date: “To the biggest Southern lady I have ever met.” Talk about a dangerous double entendre! All true. Remember: I write nonfiction. I end up explaining how first person works over and over. “If I write that, “I explain, “it’s me saying it . . . not you!” My favorite signing tag is from author Jill Conner Browne. To EVERY man, she writes, “To the only man I have ever loved.” Still cracks me up.

 

I can’t wait to share funny moments from the tour of my new book, If I Were The Boss of You. Come see me on the road!   https://www.melindaraineythompson.com/

 

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If I Were The Boss of You

If I were the boss of you cover

     If I Were The Boss of You contains charming reflections, funny observations, and nagging worries we all share about our day-to-day existence. Who we are, what’s important to us, and the small choices we make every day determine the course of our lives. Thompson utilizes her own brand of self-deprecating humor to ponder age-old, big-life questions. “A Chromosomal Point of View,” “The Fake Eulogy,” and “A Smack Down by Jesus” will make you laugh out loud. “Tiny Indignities” will make you cry. “Angels and Aliens” will keep you up in the wee hours wondering what will become of us. No Southern nostalgia, magnolias and moonlight, or voodoo queens here. This is a twenty-first-century, bossy Southern woman’s take on real life.

Available in hardback and paperback Jan. 2020! Pre-order now on Amazon or Barnes and Noble!

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New Book Coming soon! New author web site now!

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October 17, 2019 · 3:09 pm

10 Things I Wish I Could Tell Parents of the College Students I Teach

 

  1. It’s doubtful your son or daughter is the smartest person I’ve ever taught. It’s possible, of course, but the odds aren’t good. It’s like the microscopic number of high school athletes that make it to the NBA, NFL, or the MLB. Sure, it could happen. Somebody wins the lottery every day, but don’t bet your mortgage or the next 30 years of student loan debt for your child on it.
  2. Stop texting your progeny during my class. Phones are forbidden in class. College students don’t need to multi-task all the time. It’s changing their brains. I’m not kidding. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told, “I have to take this. It’s my mom.” Back off a little. Your son or daughter is dealing with lots of new stuff. Give him/her/them a chance to handle things themselves.
  3. The most important indicator of your child’s success in college isn’t how smart he is, what kind of high school she went to, or how well they did on the SAT or ACT. You know what the leading success indicator is? Class attendance. It’s the big kahuna. The best advice you can give them: Go. To. Class. “We aren’t doing anything in class today” is a lie. We are ALWAYS doing things in class. That’s literally what they pay us for. No online supplement will ever equal engagement in class. It’s electric.
  4. It’s not the end of the world if your student fails a class. In the scheme of things—like curing cancer, rounding up terrorists, saving for retirement, and eating your leafy greens—it’s not even a blip on the life timeline. In fact, an epic fail may be a defining moment for your student. We all learn much more from our failures than our successes. Learning what they are NOT good at it is every bit as important–maybe more important–than learning what they ARE good at.
  5. Not everyone belongs in college. I can’t believe I have to say this. It’s not a bad thing. We need all kinds of folks in our society. Everyone should have the opportunity for higher education if they want it, earn a spot, and have the brains and temperament for it, but college isn’t for everyone. Our diversity in talent, inclination, and disposition is one of our society’s strengths. Don’t send your student artist or musician to law school. The world does not need another angry lawyer. Don’t ask an aspiring teacher how she or he is going to support a family on a teacher’s salary. Ask society to pay teachers a living wage.
  6. Hard work will not necessarily result in high marks. Some students learn quickly, easily, and with little effort. Others study long hours, struggle with every new concept, and still make poor grades. Only a few students arrive on college campuses with great note-taking, researching, test preparation, and time management skills, but these are skills they can and should learn.
  7. Don’t project your own hopes and dreams—or lack of them—or your own regrets and disappointments on your offspring. It’s not your turn to go to college. It’s not YOU going through rush, trying out for a sports team, or running for student government office. Your son or daughter is not an extension of you.
  8. No matter what your student tells you, most professors want your child to do well. They hold regular office hours. Encourage your student to drop in, to ask questions, and to get involved intellectually in the life of the college.
  9. Colleges offer a myriad of free or low-cost speakers representing every interest and expertise on the planet. It’s a rich environment the likes of which your child may never encounter again. Tell them to go hear those speakers!
  10. Your son or daughter needs to know that your love and support are not conditional on how well they do in college, on the sports field, or in their chosen majors. Encourage them to explore new ideas, to find new interests, to make new friends, to try out interesting internships and employment opportunities, and to be brave in encounters outside their comfort zones. Give them room to imagine jobs and ways of life that you might not even know exist in the world today.

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Farewell to Sweet Tea?

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Somehow, some way . . . I have to find a way to give up sweet tea. You know why. We all do. I’m not going to recite the exhausting litany of sugar’s sins here. Plenty of other bloggers have piled on that subject. What a bore. Sugar is reviled like demons in the Bible, drivers who fail to stop for children in school crosswalks, and pension fund embezzlers. The truth is:  I’m not sure I can give it up. I’ve been off soft drinks for a year, and I don’t drink coffee. There is nothing left but water. Water tastes like nothing. Like licking Formica. A necessity for cleaning the toilet. Watering the lawn. Brushing one’s teeth. A glass of iced tea is how I start my day. It’s the libation of courage. I can face anything after imbibing—throw-up bugs, tax returns, 100-degree days, and flea infestations—if I am supported by those small bags of fragrant leaves, water, and a little sugar. Plus a little more sugar. And a smidge more. Sweet tea, full-gas, with caffeine to help me teach back-to-back writing classes and enough sugar to hold its own with any doughnut—this libation is the drink of my people. My touchstone. My cultural icon. Think of each cube of ice as a worry bead on a rosary. Sweetened iced tea is the consumable extended metaphor for good manners, intimate conversations, regional hospitality, and a sweet, fragrant beacon of hope that reassures me that I still live in a world that values civility in our interactions with one another. Marriages have been saved, children put back on the straight-and-narrow, indeed, wars have likely been averted over glasses of sweet tea with lemon and mint. It’s inexpensive. Easy to make. Timeless. Classless. Non-gender-specific. Humble. All God’s children love sweet tea.  I wrote an entire chapter about sweet tea in one of my books. I don’t just want sweet tea. I need it. I believe this to the depths of my being in a way that my mind can never be changed, the same way I know that wedding cake is the best cake in the world, that there is a merciful God, and a mullet is an unflattering haircut for anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances. Perhaps this is where I must make my stand. I’ll be the sweet tea maven. The woman who would not bow to science, reason, good sense, or cajolery. I’ve been called worse.

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To Celebrate the Downton Abbey movie release, a reprise: 10 Ways Southern Women Are Like Downton Abbey Women

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  1. Southern women and Downton Abbey women know that appearances are often more important than reality. I know plenty of Southern women who would help their friends move bodies in the middle of the night if some foreigner/Yankee had the bad manners to die in the wrong bed. You know the old saying: “Friends help one move. Best friends help one move bodies.”
  2. Southern women, like Downton women, believe that their roots are tied geographically to where their people were born. Southern women are always interested in tying your people to their people, and if they cannot, they are not overly concerned with knowing you. Genealogy is important. Have you ever met a Charlestonian? Enough said.
  3. Southern women and Downton Abbey women are always convinced they know best. They are bossy at a cellular level. It’s part of their God-given DNA, and you can examine generations of Southern women and their Downton counterparts to see evidence of this. I am bossy. My mother is bossy. My grandmother was bossy. We are here to help all those lucky enough to be born within our sphere of influence.
  4. Although the Great Britain of Downton Abbey fame seems to be dominated by men (Consider that pesky entailment of the estate, for example), underneath the surface, you will find a strong matriarchy at work—just like in the South. Ask any child under the age of 12, “Who is the boss of you?” The answer will be mama—not daddy.
  5. Southern women and Downton Abbey women are attractive. If they aren’t born that way, they know how to make themselves appear attractive, which is way more important. Even the sulky sister in Downton Abbey looks attractive after she gets a job. These women know the importance of costume changes, lipstick, a good sense of style, and fine jewelry. I think my fellow writer, Celia Rivenbark, says it best. When speaking of Southern women as compared to women from elsewhere, she says: “We’re just like you, only prettier.”
  6. Both Southern women and Downton Abbey women are able to do whatever has to be done: necessary murders, distasteful marriages, strange bedfellows, difficult politics, trying in-laws, eccentric relatives—whatever it takes to protect their homes and families.
  7. Southern women and Downton women know how to throw a party. Even if one is losing one’s house and fortune, for example, there is no reason not to go out in style with a big wedding. Use the good china; hire a great caterer, and wear a fabulous dress.
  8. Southern women and Downton women believe that good manners are a virtue in any endeavor. It is possible to face any calamity—cheating spouses, feuding sisters, possible jail time, financial ruin, even death—with grace, dignity, wit, and a really good hat.
  9. Southern women and Downton women are strong characters. They weather, endure, and get even more formidable with age. Who is your favorite Downton Abbey character? Violet, the Dowager Countess played by Maggie Smith, right?
  10. You don’t want to get on the bad side of Southern women or Downton Abbey women. They can hold a grudge for generations. It’s best to give them what they want the first time they ask. In the end, they’ll likely get what they want anyway, but you’ll get a gold star if you’re cooperative from the get-go. Believe me when I tell you: you want a gold star from a Southern woman.

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