Thursday, April 26, 2012

Arguments Among Friends

 "The truth springs from arguments among friends."
~ David Hume, Scottish philosopher

I love arguing, especially with my friends. I get a little thrill, a ping beneath the skin, when an argument turns passionate and voices rise. And when the argument rides that wicked edge between debate and fight, I often feel myself coming alive in the blood.

This can be a problem.

Especially when you're arguing with someone who doesn't particularly like the practice. Especially when you're arguing with someone who considers all arguing to be distressing, distateful, or simply fighting. And, I admit, when an argument does cross that line from debate to full-on fight, I've got a fuse that can be extinguished so quickly it leaves my loved ones breathless. I can be ready to move on, and they're still mad.

Like I said, a problem.

But I don't think Hume meant "fights" when he wrote "arguments." I think he meant debate--good, old fashioned, disagreeing debate. We all remember those, right? The kinds of conversations where the speakers kept their minds open, and those minds could be changed?

The American conscious (and conscience) sprouted, grew and flourished because of debate: because smart people argued with each other--smart people who respected each other, even when they disagreed. Smart people who found the debate a useful, changing, and illuminating tool. Who were willing to see past the parameters of their own backgrounds and beliefs. And, like Hume said, the truth sprung. (Can I get an "amen"?)

Today, debate sometimes seems useless. Listeners often seem unwilling to crack the windows of their deeply-held beliefs, even to allow in the fresh air. And instead, in all situations and on all sides, the air grows stagnant, and eventually will stink.

I love my friends. I've got friends with whom I agree on just about everything: politics, literature, religion, football. I've also got friends with whom I disagree, on all the above. Most of my friends are willing to enter the argument: to talk, exchange ideas, to laugh with and at each other when it all grows ridiculous. I'm lucky for this. And I have friends with whom I've learned simply not to broach certain topics for the sake of the friendship. And this, too, is okay--though I long to enter the argument, I want to do so if only I could be assured its outcome would be that our friendship be unaltered.

DKG and me, after she signed my ripped event ticket because I'd loaned out her book
In the Fall, I was lucky enough to sit very close to a stage where Doris Kearns Goodwin, reknowned American historian and bestselling author of Team of Rivals, et. al.--also one of my very favorite writers--regaled a large audience with tales of ex-presidents, baseball, and history. In that audience sat folks of all ilk and belief, and Goodwin was a rock star. And I'm quite certain that everyone in the audience, be they Democrat or Republican, Manhattanite or mountain-dweller, Christian or Hindi, had a marvelous time. That they (we) all learned something. That we walked away from the presentation of an historical debate the better for having engaged in it.

I'm still working on my problem of enjoying the argument a bit too much. But the truth is, it's in my blood. And I hope beyond hope, that when it comes to most debates, my mind is open. That it may be changed. And that if it's not, that out of the argument the truth will spring in all its glory, and I'll catch a bit of it in my hands.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Rick Bragg's South

Author Rick Bragg & his mother, from the May 2012 issue of Southern Living

I get a little thrill when my latest issue of Southern Living magazine gets slid through the mail slot on my porch. Granted, this wasn't always the case: the Southern Living of my youth never really appealed to me, with its pastel-colored covers of cakes and table settings, its interior seemingly directed at ladies closer to my Grandmama's age. But the Southern Living of the past couple of years (perhaps longer) is a horse of a different color.

After some editorial changes--and the fold of Cottage Living, my formerly favorite "home" magazine--Southern Living has become something that very much appeals to me, a modern Southern woman in my 30s: it's cool, colorful, fun, and fresh, with vignettes of great writing that curl my toes.

My favorite spot in the magazine: "Southern Journal," recently taken over by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Rick Bragg. This is a section that used to be filled by freelancers, a place I dreamed of one day seeing my writing. When Southern Living stopped using freelancers a few years ago, I was frustrated and sad that the chance had been lost to me.

But in stepped Bragg, a storyteller as real and scarred and soulful as the Southern landscape. I've put away my disappointment and petty writer's jealousies as I've quickly fallen in love with each and every piece he writes in the "Southern Journal" section, located on the last page of each issue.

If you haven't picked up the May 2012 issue, you should--Southerner or not, writer or not. It's heartbreaking and elegant, painful and immediately warm--like a grown-up sip of Jack Daniels. And it's about a South that's fast disappearing, though the remnants remain. And though Bragg is much older than I am, I can feel my own memories--some very different from his--surround me as I read his words, thick as early August heat in the air. So much of what he says, too, seems pertinent to me... especially as I cast my ballot in local elections this morning.

Though the piece itself isn't available yet on the magazine web site, it's called "My Brother's Garden," and I had to pass along a taste.

Here's a bit from the middle:

"The South, like chiggers and divinity candy, is everlasting. It will always be, though it will not always be as we remember. The South of our childhoods rusts, peels, and goes away. Brush arbors have left no trace on it. Preachers who thrust ragged Bibles at bare rafters now shout politics from the pulpit. Civility, toward even those with whom we do not agree, is an heirloom. Quilts, the kind made for warmth instead of cash, as a thing of antiquity, their patterns a mystery slowly fading in an old woman's eyes. Young men can play 5,000 video games but cannot sharpen a pocket knife; lost are the men who tested their truck's electrical system by holding to a coil wire. I listen for the past, but I cannot hear it. The juke joints fall silent, cotton mills wind down to a final, solitary thread, and a last buck dancer shuffles off into the mountain mist. Then I see my brother Mark in his garden, and know that not everything must fade away."

Get thee a copy, reader. You'll enjoy it.