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Thursday, July 5, 2012

What Makes America Great, Our Diversity, and Why "Bless Her Heart" isn't a Blessing

Yesterday, we celebrated our country's birthday. It caused me to pause and reflect on how vast and diverse our nation has become over the past 236 years. We landed on Plymouth Rock as one group of people and have since welcomed emigrants from all over the globe who have contributed to the uniqueness of our country. From the Cuban food and Flamenco dancing in South Florida to the deliciously ethnic dishes and cultures found all over New York City in China Town and Little Italy. Every continent and most nations have representatives who enrich our culture. Contribute to our society. And make us the great country we are. I'm not trying to incite a debate on immigration. To prevent provocation of nasty commentary, let's assume I'm talking about legal immigrants. The bottom line is that our country is great because of how much its citizens want to be American. Even if they weren't born here. It is Patriotism born from a love of what America represents and holds dear, and not simply from being born here.

As I walked across the parking lot of the CVS today, a warm breeze blew. Not a cool, refreshing, heat-wicking breeze, but a heat that did nothing to provide respite from the stifling summer. My granddaddy called that kind of breeze the "Devil's Breath." When I thought of this, it reminded me of antidotes you only hear in the South. Like how "bless her heart" is no blessing at all. Instead it means either she's dumb, she's ugly, or she's pitiful (I know it's harsh, but that's what it means). How "y'all" can be singular with the plural being "all y'all." How "pretty" is "purdy" and "pin" is "pe-en." I love when I go home to Alabama and slip back into the slow, beautiful language I grew up around. Its cadence mirrors a hot Southern summer. And each word, stretched to additional syllables, is filled with the emotion it represents. The way "Daddy" holds all of the love and respect it can, and children say "yes, ma'am" and "no sir."

Living in Pennsylvania for the last eight years, I noticed how locals say "wuter" where Southerners would say "waw-ter." They delete the "a" in the days of the week so "Wednesday" becomes "Wednsdy." In London, I heard the locals add "r" to words ending with a. "Agenda" becomes "agender" and "Ella" becomes "Eller." And anything good is "brilliant!" The Australians call a best friend a "mate" and any other guy a "bloak."

Yet despite the different ways we say things, we're all saying the same things. How much we love our family. How much our friends mean to us. How our dreams push us forward. How our lives are defined by the things treasured by us the most.

While writing The Beauty of Grace, I sent beta copies to a couple of people whose opinions I treasure. One of them, my sister-in-law, Stacey, caught an error in the dialogue that escaped me. Growing up in the South, I heard people use the term, "sweetie," all the time. In Grace, which is set in Atlanta, many of the characters used this same term of endearment. Stacey pointed out that it made the dialogue confusing, causing her to halt and re-read who was speaking. To a writer, this is a death-knoll. You never want a reader to stop and have to re-read passages. Although people use this term liberally where I grew up, I realized that not all of my potential readers grew up in the South. While staying true to the setting, I also needed to consider my audience. In her one sentence comment, Stacey changed my view of an important aspect of writing: dialogue. And making it true to the setting while also preventing the reader from having to pause.

Yesterday, I pondered how wonderfully rich our country is in how we bring diversity and perspective to one another's lives allowing us to better ourselves in every way we're human. In the arts. In our legislation. In our daily lives. God Bless America.

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