Thursday, June 11, 2009

Philosophy 101

It's summer, and when it's summer my thoughts most often turn south. I live in the southeastern United States and spend a goodly amount of time in the Appalachian mountains, and when everything turns green I fall in love and start reading books with titles like Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lovers Guide to the South and All That is Native and Fine: The Politics of Culture in an American Region.

In general, I am a sucker for local cultures, regional foods, and old ways. When I practice my fiddle playing, it gives me a thrill to learn a song that people have been playing for hundreds of years. When I knit, I happily ponder the fact that folks have been knitting down through the ages.

I'm trying to work on a theory why this stuff intrigues me. Why do I enjoy being connected to the past? Why do I get excited when I read an article in the paper about a family-run barbecue joint in South Carolina? Why does the idea of a quilting bee or a knitting circle just tickle me pink?

I don't think it's nostalgia or being homesick for the home I never had (as Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum put it). I'm too old and cynical for nostalgia. The closest I've been able to get any sort of answer goes back to another question I've raised before in this blog (and of course has been raised since the beginning of time): What are people for? There is something about idiosyncratic self-expression--whether in the music we make, the food we serve, the socks we knit--that seems at the heart of it to me. Which means that mass produced culture is somehow antithetical to what we're supposed to be about.

These is the stuff I'm going to think about this summer while I'm knitting and fiddling and eating barbecue. If you have any insights, let me know.


Heather said...

I can relate. We are heading to Chattanooga for a long weekend. The mountains and the trips from my youth like Rock City, Cloudland Canyon, and Brasstown Bald are the places I have to share with my children because I cannot imagine growing up into an adult without being affected by the quirky Southern magic these places hold.

A sense of place makes us who we are and there is comfort in knowing this sense of place can be passed down and renewed. It is an affirmation of what we and so many before us have known truly matters. Interesting how in every group or culture, those things that last and matter are always centered around food, music, hand-work, and family.

Angela said...

There is something comforting in this sense of 'connectedness' - making up a 'handed down' recipe, playing an old old hymn tune, knitting a jumper using needles inherited from a previous generation - and even more wonderful when you get to middle age and see your daughters carrying on these things.Your post, with Heather's comment sum things up beautifully.

vgeerling said...

So true about mass produced culture. One of the basic points of being a human is to express yourself, your way. I think.
Go the fiddle!
victoria (dear meagan)

Left-Handed Housewife said...

Heather, I think the sense of place is definitely part of it for me, and you're right--the things that last have to do with food, music, hand-work and family. I find the ways region influences culture fascinating.

Having grown up without a place (army brat) and during the 70s (really questionable culture), I sometimes feel a bit untethered, which may account for some of my interest in all this stuff.

Angela, I completely agree--we long for connection (E.M. Forster: Connect, Only Connect) ... and of course we live in a time when our connections sometimes seem nebulous at best.

Victoria, Yes, expressing ourselves is so basic! But what does it mean when our self-expressions are expressed via mass produced tee shirts and pre-packaged scrapbooking kits? This is what makes me crazy!

Tracy said...

It's funny you raise this. Just the other day I told Dh he should arrange a coffee buying trip to PNG. While it would be beneficial for him, the thought is completely selfish on my part. Part of who I am is all about that place and how it has shaped me and I want my children to understand that part of me. I want them to 'know' what I am talking about rather than it being some distant thing Mum rambles on about all the time.

I don't really want to change anything about my life now and I don't really want to go back and live in PNG...but it still has this pull on my heart.

Left-Handed Housewife said...

Tracy, is PNG Papua New Guinea? Did you grow up there? You should write about this on your blog!

Pom Pom said...

Interesting. I think I like NOT UNDERSTANDING. There is magic in all the confusion of the journey. When I remember my growing up spot, I don't really feel like it likes me anymore. Funny, huh? It's as if it is mad that I left and didn't come back to stay and the feeling in the air is, "Fine then!" I do love to look upon the green valley in the Pacific Northwest, my childhood home, but I think it crippled me a bit. I was so attached to the friends, so familiar with the surroundings that I feel a little lost now that I left and am not going back. I have not felt that kind of permanence since. You are a good thinker. Thank you!