A Year Ago This Week–Week Sixteen

Continuing the weekly arguments that 2016 was not all bad, I’ve created a series of posts designed to exonerate the year. This is the sixteenth installment in that series.

A year ago this week I made some bold moves in self-care. I threw out my bathroom scale. I burned pile after pile of tree trimmings as a soothing ritual. I resolved to transform Have-Tos into Want-Tos and to stop feeling guilt over making people angry. I described my favorite ways to show Love as:

Share my time. Share my words. Share my laughter. Share a meal. Share a run. 

And when asked to describe the small stuff to which I truly love giving my attention I listed:

Making magic with photography

Living in my truth — speaking it

Daring to hold the line on what I need for me.

This would all coalesce to help me support myself for what was coming next. It would put me in a good place to survive what was coming next. All those little pieces of the practice of making myself and keeping myself well were an investment in the process of successfully transcending what was coming next. I was pregnant with presentiment in 2016.

A year ago this week I continued my life-long struggle with un-Southern speech patterns. When I moved back to the South (almost ten years ago now) I discovered that the locals/natives perceive my speech patterns as haughty and stuck-up and “Yankee.” This is apparently due to the fact that I do not have a southern accent and I speak very deliberately, with a distinctly sharp elocution (as compared to the local soft drawls). I pronounce all of my syllables and long vowel sounds, I use words with lots of syllables in them, and I allegedly use a “Yankee” tone. This makes people believe I’m speaking “down” to them, as one would to a simpleton or a child. I am told this makes me sound as if I think I’m smarter than everyone else, and during times of conflict or disagreement, makes me sound disrespectful or downright mean. My natural speech patterns make people feel as if they are being treated as inferior.

The larger issue is that people assume this is a choice — that I’m doing it on purpose. I try to make the point that the soft southern accents around me and the proverbial lazy tongues of Southerners aren’t chosen. They are natural. Folks around here speak “that way” naturally. My speech patterns are also natural to me. I can’t turn them off any more than a Southerner can just drop those soft round accents or stop drawing out those drawls. No one works very hard to believe me until they’ve gotten to know me, which is tough because this language issue establishes an automatic barrier. I’ve written before about my infamous triad of critical feedback:  arrogant, smug, and lacking humility. A lot of that stems from a speech pattern that is offensive and sometimes threatening to Southern ears. They don’t hear my words; they hear the way I say the words and judge me unfairly.

Let me go ahead and admit that I used to do the very same thing when I encountered Southern accents previous to my move. I would judge the southern-speakers every bit as unfairly as they would judge me when I became transplanted permanently under Southern skies. I got taste after taste of my own medicine. So yes, sometimes it does feel like penance. And no, I don’t do it anymore, because now I know how it feels and now I’m the one who “talks funny.”

A year ago this week it was such a problem that a meeting was called at work to discuss it. I was once again asked to defend my natural speech patterns because they offended a colleague. My refusal to “talk nicer” was taken as deliberate gesture of contempt and conceit. Said colleague was fed up. By virtue of the way I speak I was accused of the usual litany of character flaws:

  • I think I’m smarter than everyone else.  I think everyone else is a dolt.
  • I “talk down” to him/her/them/everyone.  I think my opinions are superior.
  • I am disrespectful. Also impolite, snotty, know-it-all. Also use big words on purpose to make other people feel or look stupid.
  • I am mean.  When I tease people it doesn’t sound like I’m joking.
  • I won’t adjust the way I speak to sound friendlier. (You know, ‘cuz I totally could if I just tried harder, right?)
  • I sound like I’m making fun of people.  Even if I’m not, it sounds that way.

I’d heard it all before. I’d tried to hash it all out before. I was doomed because I could only explain in the same voice and with the same powers of speech that were causing the problem in the first place. I knew that it would not matter which words I chose. As long as I spoke them in my natural voice they would be perceived as contrary or argumentative. All anyone would want to hear was contrition, which is the one thing I couldn’t give. I could not be contrite or sorry for the verbal expression that comes as naturally to me as the colorful, colloquial dialect and phonetics that come naturally to them.

I did not apologize or offer to try to change my speech patterns. I did not make excuses for the way I naturally speak or sound. I took responsibility for the way people felt in response to me but I did not agree to adjust, conform, or assimilate. I said my usual piece on the matter, offered my standard reassurances that I did not, in fact, think my colleagues were stupid or inferior. I stipulated that I truly don’t mean to sound like a snotty bitch and yet could not be sorry that this is what people hear, and then I gave my notice. Of course this made people think I’d rather just leave than try to transform myself into a nicer-sounding person, which was duly noted as my cross to bear. I left in peace, smiling and blessing them all in a serenely queenly fashion. In 2016, I took the high road. Because that’s where queens walk.

And I wrote this:

In 2016, I let it all be stimulus. Or in other haughty words, I was stimulating in 2016.

A year ago this week I handled it all reasonably well. The next week, not so much. Over the next week I would get angry. Abundantly angry. Acutely angry. Supremely angry.  I would thrash and crash and bash around in a turdy wordy angst over it. You’ll see (if you don’t remember). And yet without a tantrum, a taunt, a thrust, or a parry, I would forgive everyone, including myself. More to come on that next week.

The year 2016 really did suck at times but it really did bring us to some milestones in growth and wellness. And it did so through the very suck we were so quick to malign. Maybe it was bad, but some of that bad prompted the good we wouldn’t have reached any other way. So it wasn’t all bad.

— Mercy

One Comment Add yours

  1. mishedup says:

    I remember the time, and the notice…but I don’t think you ever actually told the story about why. Your voice and speech patterns…man. crazy!


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