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by Emily Esfahani Smith
On this new edition of the Acculturated podcast, Ben Domenech and Abby Schachter chat with the author Rod Dreher about his beautiful and moving new book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life. While many in our culture seem to be driven by ambition, chasing after career success and self-centered goals at the expense of all else, Dreher has discovered a different formula for the good life: going home.
Here is David Brooks on Rod:
Rod Dreher grew up in St. Francisville, La., a town of about 1,700 people 30 minutes northwest of Baton Rouge. He left for college and then lived in Washington, New York, Miami, Dallas and Philadelphia, working as a writer for various magazines, a newspaper and a foundation.
His younger sister, Ruthie, went to L.S.U., returned to St. Francisville as a middle-school teacher and married an Iraq war veteran who worked as a fireman. On Feb. 22, 2010, Ruthie, who was 40 then, was diagnosed with a virulent form of cancer. She told her brother that she was afraid that her three young girls would be angry with God for taking her from them: “We can’t have anger,” she told him. “Make sure nobody is angry at the doctors, either. They couldn’t have caught it earlier.”
After Ruthie passed away in 2011, Rod chose, with his wife, to move back home to St. Francisville, where they “decided to accept the limitations of small-town life in exchange for the privilege of being part of a community,” as Brooks writes.In this podcast, Ben, Abby, and Rod discuss the importance of community and small towns in our success-oriented, digitally-powered culture that seems increasingly hostile to both.Subscribe to the Acculturated Podcast here.
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Absolutely wonderful podcast. It’s given me a lot to think about, and I can’t wait to read the book.
I grew up in Oregon, but my family isn’t close and there is a lot of brokenness there – in a way in enabled me to leave easily. I went to college in Nashville, lived in New York City for a bit, and now live in Los Angeles. While I’m not married nor have children, I have no desire to start or raise a family here, and I’m anxious to move….however my current industry (entertainment) makes that difficult.
As a result, I’m starting Business School later this year in Texas, and I’m very much looking forward to it. Thankfully I’m young enough at 29 to realize where my path was heading and have time to change directions a bit.
Thank you Ben, Abby, and Rod.
I think you mean the closing music… and I’d like to know who is singing it as well!
New England also has a small town, community oriented culture, albeit with a very different feel than the one Rod describes in Louisiana. People are much more reserved here and the community isn’t as obvious, but it is definitely here and the layers expose themselves the longer you stay. I live in a suburban town north of Boston, and I am continually surprised at how many of my neighbors are natives of the town (I grew up in upstate New York), and also regularly discover relationships among them I never suspected. Two of the soccer moms on the team I coach were best friends in high school, my son’s baseball coach is their cousin, my next door neighbor grew up in the house I own, etc. These things would have been unusual enough to be a topic of conversation in my home town, but they are so normal they are unmentioned here. Many New Englanders would never consider living anywhere other than their hometown, let alone someplace outside New England.
I’m a little ahead of myself here, but I look forward to listening to this. Rod and I exchanged one or two emails years ago, when he was writing for NR. I think I still have that exchange tucked away somewhere. Just one of those things that stuck with me over the years.
I’ll attest to the benefits of remaining near family and one’s home culture. When siblings, parents, grandparents, cousins, 2nd cousins, aunts and uncles, honorary relatives, and old friends of every one of those all live nearby, that’s one heck of a support network. Equally as important, it’s a lot of people who understand you and can share your joys.
Closing music is Lucinda Williams – I knew it was her but I had never heard Bus to Baton Rouge – Thanks for that.
OK, I need to know. What is the name of the opening music for this podcast, and what is the name for the style of that kind of music? It’s both seductive and painful, and reminds me of music used in a radio commercials from 20-30 years ago. I must know!
This was a great, thought-provoking discussion. Thank you.
I look forward to listening to this and not just because I have started reading everything from Abby Schachter. I suspect I will relate. We moved back from London 18months ago for family. We loved it there, but nothing–not the career advantages, the school we loved, or the walking culture–they couldn’t replace family. Both sides of our family live in Houston. We lost London, but gained back grandparents and longtime friends. It has been a harder transition than I expected, but it was worth it.
A wonderfully thought-provoking podcast – Ben Domenech really is a gem – but am I the only one who thought it ironic that a discussion about sticking close to home was taking place between people with German, Italian and Polish* surnames?
(* I had to go with something non-German for Schachter for obvious rhetorical reasons.)
J Climacus, no, I mean the opening music. And for the record, I’m not saying I like it, just that it’s iconic.
It will be interesting to see if Mr. Dreher is more bearable in the podcast than he was in his international-isolationist, crunchy-con days, when I found him to be a bit self-righteous about his virtuous lifestyle, looking down on those who lived in the suburbs.
Somewhat ironically I am listening to this podcast about community sitting in a Starbucks with my earbuds in.
Migration is at the core of the American soul–and at the core of modernity entire. Also at the core of the American soul and modernity is a Romanticism that, contradictorily, yearns always for the simpler life of agrarian community.
When the shapers of modernity (Locke, Smith, etc.) purposefully redirected societies away from military conquest to economic production, tribe (as a military entity) became less important than individual (as an economic entity). Economic efficiency requires that productive resources (including labor) must be moblile.
Perhaps Cajun Louisiana (extremely inefficient economically) can afford to preserve its traditional community only because so little of the rest of the country does.
There are trade-offs, for individuals and society. The sustainable balance–for individual and society–is not easily defined , achieved, or preserved.
To counter the radical individualism Tocqueville described, to remain free and prosperous, the American experiment in commercial republicanism requires many little communities . Community begins with family, but with the inevitable demise of tribal family in an economically mobile society, nuclear family comes under more pressure, and now begins to crack.
This was a completely enjoyable podcast–great guest, thought-provoking subject, carefully chosen questions with chances for interaction. I was better off from having invested time in it. Thanks to all involved.