Friday, February 02, 2007

Just Can’t Get Molly Off My Mind...

The obituaries of Molly Ivins were all interested in what made her into such a great journalist. Luckily we don’t really have to wonder, great journalist that she was, she reported it. She said that for her, as for so many other Southern liberals, the question that sparked her off was race. Once you figure out that they’re lying to you about race you wonder what else they’re lying to you about. Honest people are really the best source to find out what makes them tick, you don’t need to filter it through some dumb theory. Molly Ivins noted in that passage that children are notoriously honest before they are socialized out of looking for the truth.

That reminded me of how much I love impertinent children. Just love them. Not the button pushing brats who say things and bring up topics just to make their elders squirm. As if that’s possible now that everyone spills their guts everywhere at the drop of a hat. What I really like are children who ask questions and draw conclusions about things that get swept under the rug. Sometimes, like with race, those things are done for the filthiest and most apparent reasons. But sometimes it’s just out of convenience or habit. I’ve got the strongest hunch that any system that is devised, even one that tries to stay honest, will build up a crust of junk out of the exigencies of meeting deadlines, publishing papers and not offending colleagues. It’s been that way in just about anything I’m familiar with. Career building rewards you for ignoring the muck that you know is there, if just in the back of your mind. If a kid looks at it, someone without any career or social status to protect, they can cut through the crap and find the rot underneath.

A child like that gets told that they’re asking an impertinent question, every step of the way. Of course, being inquisitive, they will eventually ask why people insist on calling a question impertinent when it’s really the most pertinent question you can ask. But by the time they’ve learned those words they know that no one is going to answer their questions and they’re going to have to figure it out for themself.

It’s not every kid who does this, a lot of them show certain signs of being socialized in the most unfortunate way. Of course, they’re the cool kids, the ones who are at the top of one or more of the highschool elites and the ones who aspire to that. They don’t ask questions that will lose them status, usually not with their elders, certainly not with their peers. For them it’s the peers who are the bigger danger to curiosity and honesty. The elites of youth are just future conformists of the world, even if they like to strike the pose of being counter culture. I don’t usually worry about elites figuring they are in a position to take care of themselves, but I do worry about the horrors of that kind of anxious, painful maintenance of status in young people, the burden of the facade of cool confidence. If only they could give it up and breathe some really fresh air. After they grow up I’ve got less time to worry about them. Though I lose sleep over wondering what the world is coming to now that adults have extended the culture of highschool well past middle age.

I think I might be drifting, but then so could Molly Ivins. Not in a piece, she was a great worker who wrote about as tight a piece as could be imagined. But she was telling the truth, she never stopped poking around no matter where it led her. What can we do to keep any part of her with us, now that she’s gone on? We do what she did. Ask an impertinent question about something important every day. Ask it without worrying about the consequences from the elites or from your peers. Ask it for Molly. Ask it with heart.

... oh Lord, I hope I never do.

Thank you for reminding me of that tightness which Molly Ivins wrapped around her ideas. She could squeeze a bark out of a dead cat.

My goodness I love that woman.
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