“There are no second acts in American Lives.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald
Every Jane Austen novel ends at the marriage altar. Dissatisfied wives in literature end up dead — like Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary. Satisfied wives end up obscured in fiction, without their own narrative, accessories to the real plot. Unmarried women barely exist at all. When things go wrong in literary plots, women end up strangling themselves with their own bridal veils, like Antigone, or they end up obliterated some other way.
A couple of years ago, when my life fell apart, I wondered which dramatic death I was destined for. I did not want to die, understand, but where did I have an example of a woman who picks herself up, dusts herself off in her forties, and starts all over again? I had a couple of television-world examples, less than half an inch thick. I had CJ Craig from The West Wing
, who becomes the White House Press Secretary after a failed Hollywood career in PR. I had Samantha Jones from Sex and the City, who at a perpetual 39 seems to have no regrets.
In fiction — well, I had Scarlett O’Hara, shaking her fist at heaven, swearing that as God as her witness, she would never go hungry again.I did a great deal of soul-searching, of Internet searching, of job searching, of PhD searching, but I dare say I have drummed up a second act in this American life, no matter what Fitzgerald thought:
- I’m getting remarried
- I’m becoming a not-so-wicked stepmother
- I’m getting my PhD
- I’m working part-time while I do so and my future husband pays the bills.
The one thing, though. Perhaps Fitzgerald could have said, “In New York lives, there are no second acts.” However, in other places, I find that I can have one. Scarlett gets hers in Georgia. Mine, it turns out, is in Mississippi.
Yes, I’m moving from Brooklyn to Mississippi.
Horrified? So are my New York friends. They imagine Klansmen. They imagine a total lack of Sushi — which, I admit is a legitimate consideration. They know that Mississippi is the number one state for teen pregnancy, illiteracy and obesity.
Don’t they get it? Down there, I’m skinny. What dieter wouldn’t want to go?
Seriously, here is a photo of my second act:
I corresponded with my old writing teacher from my Freshman year in college — Allan Gurganus, author of The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All — a Southern writer if there ever were one. He told me that he thought my adjustment from New York to life on the Mississippi would be more dramatic than my adjustment were I to move to the Belgian Congo.
He may have a point.
This blog, which will document my adjustment weekly, will examine just that. Those of you who like Jeff Foxworthy jokes, or remember fondly The Beverly Hillbillies, feel free to watch in morbid fascination as I document all that I find to love about the South, all that I find cumbersome or odd.
Intermission is over. The house lights dim. Enter our heroine, stage left. We see a ranch-style house in Vicksburg, Mississippi. There is a small dog yapping. There is a man seated outside, sipping a can of beer, smiling. The woman is carrying an armful of books, and she is dressed in black.
The second act, written by my hand and the improbable divine hand, begins.