Before I moved here, I was part of a circle of women known as the Mavens. Long before the Spice Girls, and way after the Justice League, the Mavens were an elite force of bad-ass women dedicated to making the world a better place one throwdown at a time. There were four of us: Champagne Maven has a thing for Dom Perignon at the expense of home repairs. Glamour Maven knows more about clothes and makeup than that whiny Rachel Zoe. Ninja Maven is seemingly indistinguishable from other innocent waifs until you get her in an intellectual discussion—then she will tear your head clean off. And then there is me: Fire Tongue Maven. I did not choose this moniker and I see it as the curse of being both wordsmith and direct.
I learned early on that Mavens in Wonderville are not easy to find, but Dolls are. Big Doll is a beloved Knoxvillian with perfect skin, perfect hair, and perfect swagger. I have never met Big Doll; I only know about her through my best friend, Little Doll. Little Doll has perfect skin, perfect hair, and that perfect drawl that melts you when she purrs “Bless your heart.”
Little Doll, born and raised here, is both Vol and Doll. Her superpowers include knowing where all the bodies are buried in Wonderville. She knows everyone’s momma. I would not be surprised if she also knew everyone’s tax return, peccadillos, and blood type. Little Doll is a force of nature unto herself.
Damn. All I have is a fire tongue.
Unlike this Maven, Dolls talk around the story. They artfully leave what is unsaid in polite corners around a room. The Southern way is not about being forward—ever. The Southern way is about telling a good story and saying “How ARE you?” when you see someone you haven’t seen in a while.
What if Little Doll realized that my very Yankee nature as a Maven with a fire tongue was not worthy of her friendship? What if I was a person she only tolerated? What if I was just another carpetbagger intruding on her perfectly fine, perfectly Wonderville life?
That’s the thing about outsiders trying to fit in. We know we are outsiders. We can’t help it, we are different. What is worse is that we know the only way to learn how to assimilate is through social faux pas and the resulting thump on the head that our blind-to-self behavior brings.
The other day I at was at Studio Ten O in Powell getting my picture taken. I hate sitting for photographs, as I always look constipated. The photographer shot three pictures, mussed his lion’s mane of hair, and attempted to loosen me up.
“Have you made friends?”
My answer started with Little Doll but then I realized that a few Wonderville Mavens had lately revealed themselves. Tiger Maven is one of the bravest leaders I know. Zots Maven struggles with her childhood addiction to fizzing candy, and Sparkle Maven has an undeniable smile. Mystic Maven is the local Sufi, and her husband smokes cream cheese on the Barbi. Covert Ops Maven makes bearable the Cave of Doom I call my office. Even better, that girl always has a coupon for Chick-fil-A.
On my fourth attempt to smile for the camera I tried channeling the grace of Little Doll. I thought about all the things I admired in her. I heard “click” and then, “Lovely! Look at your beautiful self; you are quite charming.”
I think the trick in being new and becoming not- so-new is in finding the common ground you share with the friends you make. Be they Mavens, Dolls, or some other species. As for Dolls, I aspire to be one, for they are the ultimate combination of beauty, strength, and grace. Little Doll adopted me, and I consider her one of my best friends here in Wonderville. With typical grace she has overlooked my fire-tongue and I have learned a lot from her.
These days I’m liking Knoxville a whole bunch. It’s full of lions, tigers, Mavens, and Dolls… Oh my.