Interview with Karen Heller for Wash Post Style profile of Rod, Oct 11, 2017
I was disappointed by how Karen Heller’s profile of Rod Dreher turned out, in today’s Washington Post. Especially I felt bad that the quotes she has from me, which make Rod sound manipulative and self-centered. That’s the opposite of how I described him. That’s so frustrating. I wrote up some notes about what I’d said immediately after our conversation, which provides a better context.
« She marveled that he spoke so freely about the pain he’s felt about his family. It seemed like her impression was that he shares these very personal things because he is emotionally distraught and can’t hold it in. On the contrary, I said, he is able to talk about these things because he doesn’t have the ego needs most of us do, the need to manage other people’s esteem and admiration. He can talk about personal things without feeling the embarrassment or shame we would. He is, actually, an uncomplicated person, I said, a guileless and in some ways childlike person, simple, not egocentric, and amazingly free of defensiveness and pride.
I said also that he can feel comfortable talking about personal difficulties because he has made the ultimate decisions about them. When his priest told him he had to treat his painfully rejecting father with love and servant-heartedness, Rod accepted it and went about putting it into practice. I told her that when you’re in an emotionally painful situation that you can’t resolve the way you like, just making a decision about how you’re going to respond diminishes the paint. It turns it into something you’re coping with, rather than something that keeps wringing you out. So it’s not that he talks about these things because he’s agitated, but because he has settled in his mind about them; he has decided what is the right thing to do, and is doing it, so he is able to have peace in the middle of it (like Christ stilling the storm, I said).
She mentioned how surprised she was that, when he supplied names of people for her to talk with for the profile, he included some who are critical of him. I said that was just like him; he’s secure enough that he can listen to criticism without reflexively getting defensive (unlike most of us writers).
Stories I told—I told how I met him at a Susan B Anthony List event in 1994 (95?) and went to the restaurant next door, and how he ordered a dirty Manhattan, impressing me no end (wow, a real reporter, so sophisticated and cosmopolitan!), then ordered a baked potato with catsup. We hit it off immediately, and became fast friends. He appears in “Facing East” pretty frequently, as “Rod the Reporter”. He spent Pascha with us that year.
I told her about his trip to Austin when I was going there to give a talk; he came because he wanted to show me around a city he loves. That day he was worrying about ever finding the right girl to marry, and said he had asked God to show him when he found the right one by making him certain of it in his heart immediately (basically, to fall in love at first sight).
I was exasperated with this and said flatly “That’s not going to happen.” I told him to be realistic: make a list of the single women he knows and likes, put them in order, and go down the list seeing if romance could bloom. So the joke was on me when, at the book table that evening, he met Julie and knew immediately she was the one. He came back to the friend who was with us that evening and said “I just met the girl I’m going to marry.” Julie was actually there with a date, on a first date with a guy she knew from school (UTA). Rod, just bubbling over, persuaded them to join us after the talk at a restaurant, and then somehow managed to sit between them, and talked and talked to her all night.
I told her about the long blog post he wrote about his decision to become Orthodox, which was a very sensitive topic at the time and bound to upset some readers. When I read it I was amazed at how just-right it was, that it was both clear and humble, just perfectly phrased. It was long—abt 5000 words. I told Rod how perfect I thought it was, and he replied, “Do you really think so? That’s good. I didn’t reread it before publishing it.” He’s such a natural writer that even something that difficult rolls out easily.
I kept saying how it impresses me that he is not defensive, which is not usually the case with writers. He’s unusually free to accept criticism and consider it, and able to reconsider and admit it when he is wrong. He has a very rare ability to not get defensive and prideful. Those are all things I admire so much.
I perceived that she had two mis-perceptions and did my best to correct them. One was “He’s not doing it [living the Ben Opt] himself.” I wondered why she thought this. She said (as if this proved it) that he is going to a church with only 30 members, his kids are homeschooled and attend classes only in a homeschool group, and spends most of his time on the computer, interacting with people online and in emails. I don’t know why she thought that was not BenOp behavior. Maybe she thought that, being part of a community means being part of the larger civic community, and that would mean going to the biggest church in town, sending your kids to the biggest public school, etc. I said repeatedly that, no, he is living it; that a church with small membership can be very close, and is perhaps more likely to be an intimate community, and that homeschool communities are very close. And, though email isn’t everything, still there is a long tradition of epistolary friendships and spiritual direction, and those can be very close relationships.
The other was—as I said at the top—that he is open about the pain in his life due to some inner agony and restlessness. It said it was because so many of these are things he has simply settled in his mind. I said that he has made all the big decisions, like being Orthodox, being married to Julie, living near his mom during her lifetime, and having made those decisions, he is at peace. Just as he settled with himself how he was going to treat his father, after getting Fr Matthew’s advice. Once he settled it and set about doing it, he could talk about the pain that situation entailed, and maybe still entails—but can speak of it from a point of resolution and stability. »