The invitation from Harmony Ink Press to contribute a short piece on October’s theme of “pride” as it relates to my new release, Being Roy, had me circling around the topic for days. As I reflected on my story and characters in relationship to pride, I realized that it is a major theme of my book (though this was not a conscious choice on my part). I have always thought of Being Roy as a story about the dance between individuality and inclusion, selfhood and collective identity. What I only just now realized, though, is that pride, in all its forms, can be both help and hindrance in that dance.
My main character, Roy Watkins, is proud, no doubt about it. She is proud of her artistic talent, her unique sense of style, and the community that has nurtured her in her hometown of Benbow, West Virginia. She is proud of all the things that set her apart and determined to hold on to them no matter how her circumstances may change. This pride gives her a confidence and charisma that draw others to her like bees to honey, including the small clique of girls at her new school who claim her as the newest addition to their privileged world. Roy also attracts the interest of one of the most influential girls in school, who offers Roy the chance to attain similar levels of power in the microcosm of their exclusive school. Roy’s pride in her worth and what she stands for proves a most useful strategy for surviving the drama that unfolds from that invitation.
But the origins of the word “pride,” from the old English “pryde” (which denotes excessive self-esteem), highlight the fact that pride does not always play a positive role in our lives, as is very much the case in Being Roy. Roy’s pride almost prevents her from seizing the chance to attend Winchester Academy on scholarship and acts as a barrier to honest communication with those she loves most on numerous occasions. Pride also makes it difficult for Roy to see herself clearly, specifically the ways in which her high opinion of herself and low opinion of others make her a hypocrite. This tendency is exposed when her Winchester Academy friends spend the weekend at the trailer park where Roy lives. In this excerpt, Roy and her beloved de facto mother, Mama Dot, discuss Roy’s visitors:
It went better than I’d hoped, except for when we were leaving and I hung back for a second to get the scoop on what Dot thought of the girls. Dot could chew on a whole lemon and still talk sweet, but I needed to know the truth. If they didn’t pass Dot’s bullshit test, I wanted to know it before things got sticky. Leon was giving Immy, Had, and Bugs an inside-out tour of his latest rebuild project, a rusted antique Ford pickup on blocks out front. All three juggled Tupperware containers full of leftovers and some extra dishes Dot had done up to get us through the rest of the visit. “So,” I said, leaning my arms on the deck railing while Dot tsked over her dried-up flower pots. “What do you think? I mean, I know Immy’s an annoying snob, Bugs is pretty meek, and Hadley’s a little rough around the edges, but I appreciate you making them welcome. I thought you’d be set to muzzle Immy five minutes in.”
“Watch yourself, Aurora,” Dot warned, eyes narrowing. “You’ve got them all pegged right down, don’t you, Miss Perfect High and Mighty?” I felt slapped, not used to being on the receiving end of Dot’s temper.
“What the hell, Dot? I was just asking a question!” I’d meant my words as a joke, mostly, though if I was being honest, there was some insecurity in the mix. I didn’t want the Winchester girls to make me look bad around the trailer park.
“Oh, that wasn’t just a question, baby. That was you putting down your new friends, disguised as a question. Talk about rough around the edges. And pardon my French, but if you can’t see that these are nice girls, girls you should be grateful to have as friends, you’ve got a brick for brains.”
“Don’t call on the Lord unless you want him to answer, Roy Watkins. Not on my deck.”
“Sorry, but why are you acting like I’m the bad guy here?” Dot looked across the little yard at Leon and the girls. Bugs was proudly holding a big can of Quaker State while Hadley and Immy leaned in to watch Leon change the oil.
“Because anyone with a brain can see that Immy is about the saddest person around and deserves more than a false friend who runs her down behind her back. She’s so desperate for love, she’d even let herself in for judgment from you, just to have one more person between her and the world.” I must’ve looked pitiful, because Dot gentled and pulled me in for a hug, murmuring in my ear. “You’ve been at that school for almost three months, Roy, and every weekend you come back here and gripe about all the snobs and what a cushy bubble Winchester is. Well, you might want to think about who’s the snobby one, is all I’m saying. These girls can’t help how they grew up any more than you can. It hurt my heart to see you with only one friend your whole life. Not saying anything bad about Oscar, but it takes more than that to get by. I love you more than life, Roy, but how you’ve been acting is no way to treat people. Now you go be sweet to them like I know you can.”
Was it true? Was I so insecure about who I was that I had to make less of everyone else just to stand it? Here I was thinking that self-confidence was the one thing I had going for me apart from my creativity, and it turned out I was no better than any other teenager clawing their way through the high school pecking order. Worst of all, I’d disappointed Dot. “I’m sorry,” I mumbled, hot with shame.
Of course, a “pride” is also a familial grouping of lions, in which individuals live together to share the burdens of survival. Perhaps this iteration of pride is the most relevant to my book, as most teenagers can attest that the Serengeti has nothing on the hazards of high school!