Monday, February 24, 2014

A narcissism so pure, so breathtaking

Given His resume, we might understand God being this narcissistic, but then we remember all that stuff about sacrificing His only begotten Son, so that then leaves us with the second runner-up, the one who wrote it.

1. People say to me a lot, “I have a book in me.” No, I want to say, you probably don’t.

I agree. I absolutely have nothing in the way of a Crunchy Cons or a TLWORL in me. Nor, as far as I can tell, any human bot fly larvae or anything else of the sort.

Most people lead perfectly ordinary lives. Or, to put a fine point on it, the lives most people can recall having led are perfectly ordinary, because most people are poor storytellers.

There's an arbiter for the good storytelling we need instead. Can you guess who it is?

I’ve been bored out of my skull listening to someone drone on about some adventure they had in an exotic locale, and I’ve been utterly captivated by someone talking about an ordinary event in a quotidian life. The difference is not the locale or the character of the event; the difference is in the discernment of the storyteller. You have to be reflective, and know how to tell the difference between meaningful details and mere clutter.

Most importantly, and none of us at this point can argue with the inescapable logic we've just been dealt: you have to be able to do this at the level of captivation, discernment, and reflection that have produced those two touchstone works of storytelling by the arbiter of storytelling himself, Crunchy Cons and TLWORL.

Someone here in my town expressed displeasure with The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming, saying that they expected it to be a book about Ruthie, not a book having much to do with me. I explained that in order for the power of Ruthie’s life and example to be made clear to readers who didn’t know her or have reason to care about life in our little corner of the world, I had to demonstrate the effect Ruthie had on those around her — her students, her friends, her neighbors, and most of all, her brother, who was very much unlike her (and whom she didn’t much care for)...

Because what sort of history would we have now if it were told by anyone other than the victors?

And now that Rod has given us his story of Ruthie filtered through a lifetime of their sibling distemper - a book deal that seems to have been being pitched before she was even cold in the ground - what are the chances we might get a second, different, possibly even more truthful and compelling look at the life of Ruthie Leming?

That's right: fat chance, dude. That's why some critters plug the female permanently shut after mating, so that what he wrote will be all that's ever wrote.

But of course you wanted to know, so here's how the magic happened:

The life I’ve lived — leave home, see the world, achieve worldly success — is the standard American narrative of our time. Ruthie’s life — stay at home, build a world on the foundation your family gave you, achieve within those bounds — is not. That I was able to see the true value of Ruthie’s way of life, and that her narrative had, in her death, enough power to trump the narrative I (and many, many Americans) embraced — well, that’s the real story here. That’s how Ruthie’s story becomes relevant to people who never knew her. She lived modestly and unfussily, but she had such an impact. You couldn’t look at Ruthie’s life and think of it as the kind of life that would make a dramatic story, standing on its own. The real story was the revelation, through her suffering with cancer and her death, of what kind of impact her modest, unfussy, but generous and constant presence had on her community and the people who lived in it. To have written a standard biography of Ruthie would have been possible, and would have meant a lot to the people who knew and loved her, but it wouldn’t have grabbed the attention of many people beyond our part of the world. In short, I told a story that helped people know about my sister’s character through the effects she had on the people around her. That was what was essential to her character, and her character was indeed her destiny.

Really, who but Rod, who lived apart from her antagonistically for most of their lives, could have told the story of Ruthie Leming? Her husband Mike? Her daughter Hannah? Any number of the students and others she touched so directly and importantly? Come on, really, having read Rod's account so far, why would anyone be so foolish as to think anyone else living in the wattle-and-daub village he now sounds as if he hails from can even read?

The only recourse is to call the one and only Village Scribe. Or, rather, don't make any sort of trouble that might be blogged around the world - in his words only - while the one and only Village Scribe proceeds to call himself. And, ultimately, how could anyone but Rod have written the story of Ruthie Leming that contained the appropriate amount of Rod?

Sadly, we'll probably never get a chance to know now. The one whom we can only hope will one day be seated somewhere far to the left hand of the Father, ideally well behind the heavenly potted parlor palm, next to the rest room, goes on the explain why, although it's important to refer to the writing of Homer, Plato, Tom Wolfe, Walker Percy, and Rod Dreher interchangeably in the same post, the last one still remains for the time being only potentially a Homer, Plato, Tom Wolfe, or Walker Percy

Wolfe is so, so right about learning to write by getting out into the crazy world and seeing what you see. That’s not the path I followed, by the way, because it was not the path open to me.

Because, naturally, it was not the path open to him. Wait...really? Why not? Because right up above Rod's already told us the big difference between him and stay-at-home Ruthie - who, unlike him, achieved nothing, nothing beyond the bounds of the foundation her family gave her - was that he instead left home, saw the world, and instead achieved worldly success.

(Make a note of this one: "path not open to you". I can guarantee you that when it's mid-August and it's both cool inside and there's something cold in a glass and something good's playing on the big screen and my girlfriend wants me to mow her yard, there will be a path, around and around and around, simply not open to me. Sorry, hon'. Path just wasn't open to me.)
Of course success as a writer came not as a reporter, which I never really learned how to be, but as an interpreter. I’ve been a critic and a columnist most of my career. I happen to live in one of the most interesting parts of our very interesting country, but it is hard for me to get out of my armchair and go see what there is to see around here, and write about it. Part of it is my chronic illness, but if I’m honest with myself, that’s only a small part of it. Mostly it’s because I’m a contemplative by nature, and because I’m lazy. Put another way, I’m far more inclined to be Plato, a contemplator of ideas, than Aristotle, an observer of phenomena. We need both, of course, but if I could get off my ass and be more of an Aristotle, I’d be a better writer. Heaven knows there are so very many great stories all around me, waiting to be told.

Including, no doubt, Ruthie Leming's, but that chance has already been pissed away on a quick and dirty "interpretation" for some much needed cash.

Now Rod's chronic illness, which, depending how open you as a reader are to suggestion, has plagued him either since birth or only in the last few years not counting Dante-relapses, has played a small part. But most of the reason seems to be because the would-be storyteller is, by his own account, a failed reporter content for year after year to have been a lazy, self-absorbed interpreter of reality as he encountered it on that basis. The important question: will Matthew McConaughey be available for the biopic?

Ah, Ruthie Leming, you lived and died, and it's almost a drop dead certainty we hardly knew ye, and probably never will. But just look at what we got in your name instead.


  1. Keith: "A narcissism so pure, so breathtaking"

    Gadzooks! You are not kidding, Keith.

    I thought I was pretty jaded by now. But I could scarcely believe that even RD could write anything that is this full of himself.

    It's like looking through a big, never ending photo album full of nothing but selfies.

  2. Gadzooks is right. The passage that struck me from the Dreher post is this:

    . . . my success as a writer came not as a reporter, which I never really learned how to be, but as an interpreter. I’ve been a critic and a columnist most of my career. I happen to live in one of the most interesting parts of our very interesting country, but it is hard for me to get out of my armchair and go see what there is to see around here, and write about it. Part of it is my chronic illness, but if I’m honest with myself, that’s only a small part of it. Mostly it’s because I’m a contemplative by nature, and because I’m lazy. Put another way, I’m far more inclined to be Plato, a contemplator of ideas, than Aristotle, an observer of phenomena. (emphasis added by me)

    A contemplator of ideas indeed. Yeah, right. Ideas are to Dreher as sex is to Miley Cyrus -- each discovered something (superficially to be sure), and now they act as tho they invented it and won't shut up about it.

    Ideas are hard. And I'd think writing about ideas is hard work -- requiring more time and effort than posting excerpts from other people's output ("Read the whole thing!") and then apologizing for it by saying it's your "notebook" that you hope inspires commentary.

    I would agree with one thing in Dreher's post. He says he's lazy. No argument from me on that.

  3. Even choosing among Beetle Bailey characters, most people would be think it bragging if you went with Plato.

  4. And then he follows this up with today's gem, which contains this piece of bovine offal:

    "There have been times, and still are times, when I engaged in nasty gossip out of malice, because I didn’t think the person I was gossiping about had a right to his or her reputation. I have never passed on anything I knew was untrue, but that’s hardly a defense. I have often passed on things I wasn’t sure were true, but that I thought might be true, because they defamed an unlikable person. I have often passed on things I knew to be true, because of the same thing. Just typing this makes me aware of times I’ve recently done this; I will need to take this to confession this weekend."


    1. Gee, maybe Frank Luntz will read this and feel better now.

    2. Of course, I doubt Luntz read Dreher's hit piece on him, much less today's tripe.

  5. How can anyone write that bilge with a straight face?

  6. $100 coffee makers? Someone please tell me he's making this up?

  7. There are a couple things I feel like I ought to add here.

    First is that now I kind of feel bad about writing this post, as if I was Bart Simpson and I'd just scribbled a goatee on the Mona Lisa with a magic marker. The original all by itself was so pure, so perfect in its naive pomposity and self-parody of the complete and unselfconscious narcissist that I feel now I probably detracted from the reader's experience by writing anything at all.

    The second is that a narcissist like Dreher probably doesn't recognize that his blogging about his ailments and his coffee maker aren't in fact slaking burning market demand for his unique and precious insights, but rather are only earning him money at all because he's happened to have stumbled into the orbit of an eccentric Prince in the form of TAI/TAC CEO Wick Allison, whose temporary patronage is indulging these ramblings. But Allison has a history at his home base city magazine of cutting those who he no longer needs or who are no longer fitting his game plan loose fairly callously and coldly and then letting his minions kick them opportunistically if they happen to threaten him with any sort of competition. He's most famous for having done so with one of his pioneer real estate bloggers but other examples wouldn't be hard to find at all.

    So there's poor Dreher babbling on again today giving advice about being a writer to his young adoring hangers on who want to be just like him when they grow up and almost certainly mistaking the allowance his sponsor Prince is doling out to him as a gratuity to indulge his own vanity needs as current market demand for his writing. But there's a limit to how far even a deep pocket like Allison can go to assuage a conscience made rich by peddling upscale materialistic Dallas living by charitably indulging in the sort of muddled missionary tracts TAC offers, and sooner or later he's going to have to pull the plug and hand TAC off to the next sucker.

    At that point, realistically, who will buy the magic mirror that is Rod Dreher? NRO? The Atlantic? The Dish? In fact, now I'm actually curious for real: name the outlet who would sign Dreher on as a blogger tomorrow. Patheos? Seriously, who?


    1. Keith, I just touched up the mustache by adding the tag "you can't make this up". And that's mostly what I have to add.

      The consolation to be taken is that there are new readers of the internets every day, and if this is the first post someone ever read of Dreher's, there's a good chance that that person will never read Dreher or take him seriously ever again.

  8. Not a blog per se. but Ora TV. Where he can hang out with such luminaries as Jesse Ventura.
    Jonathan Carpenter

  9. Well, seems the Working Boy has done it again.

    "William Saletan has a piece on Slate today talking about how the Internet echo chamber made a two-year-old piece he wrote about “after-birth abortion” seem like breaking news. Turns out I was one of the prime movers in this event. I didn’t do it on purpose. Somebody on my Facebook feed sent a link out, and I read the story without looking at the date. I reasoned — faultily — that this must be a New Thing because I had never heard of it. I blogged it without looking at the date at the top of the story. I honestly thought it was new. I apologize for sending out old news, but it was a mistake, not an intent to deceive."

    He didn't do it on purpose. Someone stuck the story on his Twitter feed and, well, he caught a bad case of oral diarrhea and just had to write about it. And of course his adoring fans didn't bother to check up on the story at all.