On this day when this blog, thanks to David Brooks’s generosity, has so many new readers, let me share with you a post from a few weeks back, in which I discussed why Louisiana is a place of mercy, not meritocracy. Excerpts:
A Louisiana native friend of mine who works in politics in Washington writes:
I was talking with a friend in DC not long ago (another Southern expat), and we agreed that people from Louisiana, like nowhere else, have the best understanding of “the good life.” It’s OK to be average there – to go to work each day, come home, have a beer, and love your family and friends. One thing that really sucks about DC is that everyone here very seriously carries the burden of having to Change The World.
Man, is that ever true. I have never lived anywhere in this country like Louisiana in this regard. I’ve lived places where people were more socially reserved and driven than others (New York City vs. Dallas), but nowhere like Louisiana in terms of the good life, measured not by material wealth or career advancement. When we were first married, my wife, who was born and raised in Dallas, was sometimes frustrated by the front porch culture she’d encounter when we’d go down from New York to visit my family. My folks love to sit on the front porch and talk to whoever comes by. And somebody is always coming by. It’s pleasant, to be sure, but Julie wasn’t used to front porch culture as a way of life. But as she got used to it, she came to appreciate how rare it is nowadays to be able to just sit there and enjoy your drink and being with your friends and family.
People do this in other places, I know. But it really is a way of life in Louisiana, at least south Louisiana, in a fashion I’ve not seen anywhere else.
Every Louisiana expat I’ve known in my own expatriated years talks about it with such intense, usually mixed, emotions. Even folks who are angry about the place seem to know that their anger comes from heartbreak: they love it so much, but it is so, so disappointing. A dear friend, a Louisiana expat who lives and works in London, wrote me after he learned that I was moving back to our homeland, saying that he thought this was a great idea, because it has seemed to him that I’ve been trying to recreate what I loved about Louisiana in all the places I’ve been living. I thought that was a great insight, actually. Whenever a big storm is coming, my instinct is to ice down the beer and get out the gumbo pot. Now I’ll be living in a place where that actually makes sense to people.
Louisiana is a place where it’s easy to be frustrated, if you’re ambitious, or even if you have the perfectly reasonable expectation that things are supposed to work rationally. You can’t really romanticize these severe problems away. But also easy to be happy if you adjust those expectations of daily life, and of your life in general. I wrote in this space (here, here, here,here, and here) during our recent trip to St. Francisville to bury my sister about how moved I was by the outpouring of love and support from the community for my sister’s family during their time of trial — not only in Ruthie’s death, but throughout her entire 19-month struggle with cancer. The communal solidarity was astonishing, even a revelation to me. I mean, I knew I came from a good place, but I had not appreciated before how much I needed to be in a place like this. People are so easy to be with. They’re happy to see you come, and sorry to see you go. Mr. Ronnie has decided it might be a good night to make a gumbo at his camp on the creek, and wants to know if y’all want to come over? Just pick up a couple of six packs of beer and head down there, and sit on the front porch and drink and eat and and laugh and tell stories. That’s all. But that’s everything. Do you see? To be freed from the felt burden of having to Change the World, of having to get ahead, of having to think of your life in terms of achieve, achieve, achieve – it’s an unusual thing. You can be only okay in Louisiana, or maybe even something of a mess, and they’ll love you anyway, as long as you can laugh at yourself and at life, and know how to sit on the front porch, so to speak, and pass a good time.
Read the whole thing. What you think about south Louisiana has a lot to do with your definition of the good life.