Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Smarter'n we let on
Met a Virginia gal yesterday who was a livin’ example of a life lesson the Lord and unfamiliar circumstances blessed me with back when I was in Congress.
I was in Congress – as a press intern for a House member from Georgia, back in the mid-'80s. His name was Patrick Swindall (apt, since he served on the House Banking Committee). He won his seat in the Reagan landslide of ’84, the first Republican from the district, near Atlanta, since Reconstruction. Ben Jones later beat him for the seat -- Ben Jones, who played “Cooter” on the “Dukes of Hazzard,” and I swear I am not making any of this up, you can check the records on-line, I’m sure.
This gal from Virginia made me think of some uppity Georgians. Not unlike myself, she grew up so far back in the sticks it’d take at least a half-dozen prepositions to get to her house. It was way back down over in to the hills of southwestern Virginia, so close to Bristol Motor Speedway you could probably hear the races on clear nights -- and that’s twice as many prepositional zigs and zags as it takes to get way down upon the Suwannee River.*
She just wallered syllables and words around in her mouth 'til they tumbled out so natural-like it made me want to pour a cup of the way she talked and drink it. She’s 27, and in the course of my visitin’ with her, she had cause to mention her “mommy,” which Loretta Lynn has always called her mama. Loretta is from Butcher Holler, Kentuck, of course, as everyone knows, but she and the sweet-talkin’ gal are from the same neck of the woods culturally and coal-mining-wise. I swear, I just wanted to hug her, all innocent and cousin-like if you know what I mean and some of you do.
Some people – and I use that term loosely because what I mean is Yankees and stuck-up Southerners who have got above their raisin’ – hear her talk and dismiss her as an ignorant yokel, hick, fool or worse. Well, she is a yokel, and a hick – and it takes one to really know one. But she’s no fool, and no dummy.
Despite her unhurried manner of speakin’, she was fleet of thought, and that apparent contradiction is what drives Yankees and uppity rustics plumb crazy. She had served in the Air Force, which even startled me a little because she seemed so slight and dang-near fragile, bless her heart, although I’m pretty sure she could’ve torn my head off, climbed down my neck hole and ripped my heart out with her bare teeth if I crossed her.
She was disarming, in other words, which is why I was reminded of the lesson I learned in Congress.
The folks in Swindall’s office were suburban Atlantans, with one or two from the Washington, D.C., side of Virginia, both of which are Southern only in the technical sense. My twangy, ain’ty way of talkin’ had them thinkin’ I was a yokel, hick, fool or worse, and I was, and am, none of the above. I just talk that way because I grew up around people who talk that way.
Heck, when I was 20, workin’ at a radio station in Arkanas, the program director sat me down one day and gave me a good talkin’ to because I sounded like such a hick on the air. What pushed him over the edge was a Valentine’s Day promotion we were runnin’ where the first caller could have a bouquet of flowers sent to his or her sweetie. A bouquet of flowers, properly pronounced “BOO-KAY UV FLOW-ERS.” It came out of my then-still-Copenhagen-dippin’ mouth as “BO-KAY UV FLYERS.” Turned out that not only did I have a face made for radio, but I also had a manner of speech made for writin’.
But I’ll be damned if I’ll let others’ hang-ups persuade me to pretend otherwise and talk like I’m from central Nebraska or wherever it is they train most national TV news anchors.
Besides pure-dee regional pride, there’s one other reason I will employ my natural dialect, as needed, in the course of life, and this is the lesson I learned in Congress:
I’m in the information bidness. When people think you’re dumb, they always tell you more than you ask for, more than you really need, and more than you can use. Research bein’ the secret to almost any kind of writin’, letting people think you’re a dolt, if you can stand bein’ talked down to some, is a great way to get ahead and stay ahead.
(A rerun from August 2-ought-ought-4. Been busy.)
I recall my own self sayin' "For God's sake, Bird (LouAnn), put some clothes on!" LOL
And now a teeny bit about GKS, too.
Too much protesting to be simple.
What's going on that the repeat means something to you?
We're given Geritol cocktails.
We're given Rib Art.
And now this re-post about being "smarter" than Yankees and Tidewater white-buck wearing Suutheners allow. (And why leave out Californians and the Pacific Northwest? Or the Industrial North?)
Perhaps an alternative title would be, "Transparenter'n we'd 'fess up to."
In my experience, this state of affairs also occurs when people think you're very human and they feel a connection.
In fact, it also seems to me that this state of affairs also occurs when people think you are really smart.
Maybe people just like to talk, especially if they are not married to each other.
Pretty clear that there's lots about both. Nobody said it was simple. And nothin' going on beyond me being too busy yesterday to think of a post and that was the first thing worth a damn I came across when I started glancing through the archives.
I don't b'lieve there is a damn thing in this that suggests that anybody is "smarter'n" anybody else. "Smart as," is all.
Re, "Perhaps an alternative title would be, "Transparenter'n we'd 'fess up to.""
I don't know what this is supposed to mean. The title, and deliberate dual theme, of this blog is in the nameplate. Sometimes it's a little more E, sometimes a little more R. And I don't b'lieve I efver hide either of those under a bushel.
Re, "In my experience, this state of affairs also occurs when people think you're very human and they feel a connection. In fact, it also seems to me that this state of affairs also occurs when people think you are really smart. Maybe people just like to talk, especially if they are not married to each other."
Maybe. But none of that is what I'm talking about in this. I'm talking about seeking and getting the kind of information from people that is an imposition on them by definition, as much of what I do as a journalist is.
I was just looking for cover since I seemed to be whimsically slipping in a few comments that erred on telling "you more than you ask for, more than you really need, and more than you can use."
And since, by now, I am a Yankee, I didn't want to be put automatically in that category of those who think Southern country accents automatically indicate someone is dumb. After all, look at all the smart people from Southern country. Just... look at... ...
Maybe we better work on the list.
Now ... harumph!
The late Mike Synar
OK, there's four anyway.
I will confess that I spent quite a bit of my life judging others' intelligence and acumen on the basis of (a) their education; and (b) their accents. A southerner with a lot of education was lower, in my then-estimation, than a Yankee who dropped out of HS. Why? Because I was raised in the pristine hills of upstate NY to think that way.
I am quite ashamed of my own previous prejudices. Perhaps I go out of my way, today, to make up for them, giving others the benefit of the doubt (sometimes repeatedly; MA is a good example of that). My point in my initial comment was simple, though - I have run in to far too many people, like my former self, who assumed all sorts of things, not the least of them being that they were far better than most of the rest of the world. That I can now hear my father's occasional reminder in my ear ("You don't know every goddamn thing!") is good medicine for me. Humility begins with the assumption that I am actually not as smart, witty, well-versed, etc., as whoever I am talking to (see, I even ended that sentence with a preposition!).
Anyhoo. No harm, no foul, as they say.