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Still in the incunabula stage

Living In The South

Roy Blount Jr. opened it up for questions.  He'd been telling hilarious stories about his experiences as a southerner who has spent most of his working life in the north.  He's on the book tour for Long Time Leaving, and Jake had arranged with WBHM to hold this event as a benefit for the station.  The venue was the McWane Science Center, which might not seem like a logical venue for Blount, but Jake is good at bringing people together, and it gave him a chance to promote the non-fiction book club that he's starting up with McWane.

Blount's an old hand at this and had the audience cracking up from his first sentence.  His manner suggests that he's just pulling these memories and stories up at random, but it's actually well-practiced.  Indeed, some of his stories had appeared almost verbatim in a newspaper interview that appeared a couple of days ago.  It may be an act, but it's a very good one.

I raised my hand  and he nodded in my direction.  I said I'd undergone the opposite journey from his, being raised in the north, and then finding myself living in the south.  So I'd had mirrored experiences to his, with southerners curious about how I was managing down here, and my northern friends asking questions about what it was really like.  Lynn had given me the clue years ago, and I'd distilled the distinction down to the matter of discretion.  Blount raised an eyebrow. 

"In the north, to be 'discreet' means to act in such a way that nobody knows what's really going on.  But in the south, to be 'discreet' means to act in such a way that everybody can act as if they don't know what's really going on."  Much laughter from the audience.  Blount just grinned and went on to the next question.  I've been using that line for years when I've been talking with people about the differences and I've never met a southerner who disagreed.

Earlier in the week, I was with several of the deans, meeting with a candidate for one of our open dean positions.  All but one of us, I think, were raised in the north, and we were unified in our praise for Birmingham and Alabama.  There's a generosity of spirit and, despite the stereotypes, a genuine openness to new ideas and new people.   And although the ridiculous unregulated development is threatening, it is still a very beautiful part of the country.

The past is always with us here, of course, and the wounds from slavery and segregation are still at least a couple of generations away from being healed.  But maybe that's what makes so many of us here work so much harder to make things better.  You don't need to deny or ignore the evil that's been done in the past to recognize all of the wonderful history of this region and the great promise it shows for the future.

I'll never be a southerner -- you don't get to be that unless you're born here.  But I don't imagine that I'll ever want to live anywhere else.

Comments

Marcus

I spent the summer of 1996 in Murfreesboro, TN with my Aunt Linda. That July 4th weekend I drove down to Oxford, MS to visit Square Books and watched the fireworks in Florence, AL. I also heard one of the best sermons of my life in a tiny church in Cleveland, MS, about the importance of tending to the "little things" in life.

At the time I liked the idea of living in the South. Now I'm not so sure--the pro-gun, pro-Bush stance is enough to drive me crazy. But I still enjoy visiting what is by far this nation's most distinctive region. When you're in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, you could be anywhere. But when you're in the South, you know you are in the South.

T Scott

Even in Alabama, Bush's approval rating is down to about 41%. I think that's part of the problem with stereotyping -- there is this notion that Alabama (and other Southern states) are staunchly Republican, pro-gun, socially very conservative. Certainly the states leans in that direction, but the reality is far more various and diverse.

Michelle

I grew up in St. Louis, MO and what I have found interesting in my travels is that the South considers me from the North and the North considers me from the South. I usually counter with I am from the Mid.

Bob

Marcus, the South is indeed a distinct group of regions (e.g. Arkansas is different than Virginia, yet both are Southern), but I disagree that the rest of the country is homogenized suburbia. Go to Minneapolis in January, and you'll know EXACTLY where you are. Or go to Albuquerque in the spring. Or Portland, Oregon, in the fall. Or Bozeman, Boston, Pittsburgh, etc. It is easy to take the familiar for granted.

Marcus

Good point Scott. I am overreacting to an episode on Memorial Day in Nashville two years ago, when I was visiting family.

A radio station played an extremely offensive (to me) montage of clips of President Bush thumping his chest about our glorious efforts in Iraq, with the sound of battlefield helicopters in the background. The implication: Supporting soldiers requires supporting this terrible war. I'm usally calm to the point of phlegmatic. But that montage had me enraged within seconds.

Now two more years have elapsed, and Bush has lost favor everywhere. But tapping into the "red state" stereotypes was a key to his success in 2000 and especially in 2004. That noise machine will roar again in 2008, and hopefully it will fail this time.

Carolyn Fleming

my husband and i are 40 and we both have relatives in the South. His in Alabama and mine in North Carolina. We've lived in Philadelphia most of our lives. With all the crimes,high prices,and jobs that don't pay well, we're thinking of moving back "home" with our 4 year old daughter. I don't want to start out living with relatives though. Any suggestions on how we should make our transition?

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