Meet Jane Borden on ‘Bookwatch’

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 11, 2011

ěIf New York is the city that never sleeps, Chapel Hill is the city that dozes often and only gets up from the couch to go to the bathroom. … Nothing against Chapel Hill; itís very hip. But itís like comparing Pluto to the sun.î
It is my favorite quote from Jane Bordenís ěI Totally Meant to Do That,î a totally funny book about a young Carolina graduate moving to New York City and confronting the challenges of a city that never sleeps.
Borden will be the guest on UNC-TVís North Carolina Bookwatch this afternoon at 5.
Some other ěnewî New Yorkers, now famous, have noticed Bordenís book. Amy Poehler, describing the book, writes, ěThe classic story of Country Club mouse meets City mouse, a sweet reminder of what it feels like to be new in New York.î
Many North Carolina college graduates hurry up to New York. Experiencing the city is another rite of passage for them. But, writes Borden, most of them go back to their home state after a few years.
Why did Borden stay in New York when almost all her North Carolina friends were returning home?
It turns out to be a tough question for her. Living in New York has been hard going. Not just the constant 24-hour-a-day noise, not just the rude, humiliating answers, not just the drug-dealing and homeless neighbors who think stealing from you is what they were put on this earth to do, and not just every other annoyance that seems to be a personal attack on her, but is just part of life for almost everybody in the big city.
When Bordenís aunt (Aunt Jane, there are five Janes in the family) worried about the city making her niece forget the lessons in proper etiquette and proper behavior that she learned growing up in North Carolina, the aunt sent her a book on manners, ěHow to Be a Lady.î Aunt Jane marked some of the bookís most important advice, such as, ěA lady knows when to wear a slip or half-slip and does so.î
Or ěWhen a lady makes her way down a row in a crowded theater, she faces the people who are already in their seats. A lady never forces others to stare at her backside.î
Borden wonders, ěSo instead I force them to stare at my crotch? While at the same time, bumping my rear into the unsuspecting heads of those sitting in front of us?î
Borden got her mail at work, because packages delivered at her New York apartment got stolen. At the office, Bordenís co-workers opened the package with the manners book. Then, they read out loud all the ěHow to Be a Ladyî suggestions, making fun of Borden, Aunt Jane, and, by implication, you and me and everybody else in North Carolina who thinks good manners are a good thing.
There is a happy sequel to Bordenís story of 12 years in New York. Back in Chapel Hill for a visit not long ago, she met a graduate student that she liked a lot better than her life in New York. This past summer they married. He accepted a teaching post at Sewanee, where they now live, in the mountains and woods of Tennessee. She is, no doubt, having to unlearn many of the lessons she learned and described in ěI Totally Meant to Do That.î
If comparing Chapel Hill to New York is like comparing Pluto to the sun, how is Jane Borden going to compare Sewanee to the Big Apple?