Where Real Southern Men Come From

Yes, I ended that headline in a preposition. Get over it. And, it’s more than a little bit of misdirection. I have no intention of telling you the origins of real men of the South. I would think that’s pretty obvious. What I do intend to tell you is the origin of this site, Real Southern Men. In doing so, I hope to give a little insight into the creative process and how inspiration can spring forward in most unexpected ways.

We’ve written much on here about the goal of defining Southern masculinity and celebrating all the good of the South … before it’s completely erased by the big-box blandness that plagues our nation. I’ve even explained before that I had originally planned for this site to be nothing more than a humorous personal blog of my attempts to be a Real Southern Man.

What I have never shared was the original germ of an idea that sparked the whole thing. That’s because, until two days ago, I had honestly forgotten.

You see, I’m an idea guy. My wife has questioned how I juggle so many ideas and projects without going insane … assuming I haven’t already. With dozens, if not hundreds of ideas swimming around in my head, I can’t always recall where they originate. If I could make a living by simply selling ideas in bulk, I’d be very wealthy.

Some are great ideas, some are just okay and some are outright preposterous. And I would never have enough time in five lifetimes to pursue them all. Naturally, I have ideas for film, TV and writing projects. I’m a writer and filmmaker. It’s only natural.

I also have ideas for things I would have no clue how to implement. Like a nationally branded restroom service for gas stations and fast food restaurants that would guarantee at least one exquisitely clean public restroom at every major interstate exit. Tell me you (or your wife) wouldn’t stop someplace specifically for a clean restroom. Sure, it would be a tough sell to the business owners, but the promise of not contracting a communicable disease is marketable in any economy.

Some ideas never really take off – like some TV projects I’ve pitched in recent years. Other ideas are so obvious that they show up from other sources before I can get them to market. A few years ago, a friend and I came up with a funny notion for an animated series about a team of superheroes who draw their power from their racial and cultural stereotypes. We called it “The Offensive Squad.” (I’ll spare you the details, because while funny, they are most definitely offensive.) While we were still trying to figure out how we would create a pitch, Adult Swim announced a series called Minoriteam. Guess what it was about.

Some ideas are subtly “borrowed.” In 1994, I partnered with a friend and colleague to create a pilot for a travel series aimed at 20-somethings called “Alternate Routes.” The idea was that a handful of Gen Xers would load up in an RV and travel the country, showing others of our generation how to see the world on the cheap. We pitched it to MTV. They really liked it, but said they could just as easily create the same thing themselves. That summer, Road Rules hit the MTV airwaves. They even ripped off our logo design. True story.

And then other ideas are outright stolen. I would tell you more, but honestly, we’re still considering legal action. (Maybe ideas have value after all.)

Back to the issue at hand.

Some of you may know that last summer I wrote the Great American (Unpublished) Novel. As part of my process of rewriting, I’ve been reading the book aloud to my 10-year-old daughter. For any writers out there, I highly recommend reading your work aloud to get a feel for the words, the flow of the sentences and the arc of the story. It’s a great and humbling exercise. However, if your book is about lust, murder, incest, serial killers or tawdry sexual affairs, you might not want to read it to your kid.

Fortunately, mine is none of those. While not ostensibly written for children, the book is perfectly fine for her. It’s a story of midlife crisis, the search for meaning and the sometimes absurd nature of fandom. It’s entitled Midlife Mouse, and you can read more about it here.

Two nights ago, as I was reading Chapter Sixteen, “It’s a Big Bus After All,” I came across this passage. In it, our main character, Bill Durmer, is in the midst of a bizarre encounter on a Disney World bus with an old lady who travels with hundreds of little rubber dolls. She asks him to take her and the dolls for a drive:

“Yes, ma’am,” Bill replied politely. She may have been crazy, but that was no call to be rude. He was still a Southern man, after all.

Upon reading that, it hit me: this was the very sentence that inspired Real Southern Men. I remember writing it and thinking, “Who am I to say what is a real Southern man? I’m not even one myself.” I thought about my protagonist and all the Southern qualities I had written into him, projections of my own desire for real “Southerness.”

From there, I started to think how funny it would be to document my own attempts at real Southern manhood. I started thinking of the things that define a Southern man, how I would write about them and the friends I would want to join me in the adventure.

And it all happened in a flash. Just like … that. And the idea was almost fully formed. I can’t explain it. I certainly can’t take credit for it. It was, quite simply, inspiration.

The word inspiration derives from the Latin inspiratio, which means “to breathe in.” It came to signify the breath of God that influences one to create. When you have one of those moments – a concept that is born almost fully formed, a song that pours forth from you complete, a book that seems to write itself – there can be no personal pride in the work, for it is the work of the divine.

And there’s no feeling in the world quite like it.

That’s not to say all my ideas are works of God. This one certainly wasn’t:

RSM Wayne Franklin rocking the mullet/afro, or "MuFro," in high school.


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