Thursday, November 25, 2010

Why I Chose Memphis: Paul Haught

Our next contributor in the Why I Chose Memphis series is Dr. Paul Haught, Associate Dean for the School of the Arts and Chair of the Religion and Philosophy Department at Christian Brothers University. I met Paul through mutual Midtowner friends, and for a short time was totally unaware that he was married to another friend of mine, the lovely and charming Emily Holmes (who taught at Rhodes in my first year there but is now a Professor of Religious Studies at CBU). Paul is really the model of a good colleague: smart, open-minded, equal parts interesting and interested. He is as easy "talking philosophy" in traditional professional settings as he is over a couple of beers in front of a backyard firepit, which places him squarely in the category of my Favorite Kind of Academics. Paul's story repeats an emerging theme in this series, that is, stories of being "chosen" by Memphis before choosing it in return. From Paul:

"Deciding to move to Memphis was, in the beginning, mostly a practical choice for me and my family. The short story is that in 2005, I reentered the philosophy job market from the security of a tenure track position, narrowing my search to institutions that were good fits by job description or because they offered closer proximity to family. We had a son on the way, and Memphis was a two hour drive from my wife’s parents in Little Rock, itself a town I thought I could live in if I ever got the chance. Memphis also had the allure of offering the job prospect closest to New Orleans, a city I had lived in during graduate school and a town still very much alive in me.

My previous experiences of Memphis had primarily been of passing through on the way to Little Rock (usually some version of Lamar to I-55) and a wedding in Germantown some years back. I’ll just say that I had digested the allegory of the cave well enough not to trust those perceptions--there had to be more to Memphis than that. And there was, which I was fortunate to sample on my official visit to CBU. Although I only caught glimpses of the city’s beauty on that trip, it was the hospitality of the place--demonstrated by my hosts and encountered in the neighborhoods and restaurants featured on my tour--that confirmed my decision to accept the eventual offer from CBU. In the end, it wasn’t easy to leave friends and colleagues for whom I had developed a real fondness in South Carolina, but a change was needed, and Memphis was where it was going to happen.

Ever since I learned there could be such a thing as a philosophy of place, I have made two conscious efforts everywhere I’ve lived. The first is to cultivate awareness of the way each place works itself into me (as I resist, embrace, or deliberately try to modify each place). The second is to invite that process to occur, to be open to being transformed by place. Part of me is still deeply rooted in my home places of Virginia and D.C. (my nostalgia frequently takes me to the Virginia Piedmont or Blue Ridge). But I also find myself missing other landscapes and cityscapes that have made their marks on me, and I am fascinated by how this process has unfolded since I’ve been in Memphis. Time is a necessary feature of a philosophy of place, and Memphis is most prominently the event of my being and becoming a father. My first son’s birth actually happened in South Carolina, so I’m not referring to Memphis as the location of my paternity. Rather, Memphis as place has been formed for me most strongly out of the needs, desires, anxieties, and joys that belong to my life as a dad. As a result, being a dad has patterned not only how and where I spend my time but also the nature of my associations and friendships in Memphis. And as my oldest son has now grown into his own awareness of place, my wife and I increasingly become able to share our experiences of place with him and vice versa. I’ll refrain from reciting a list of all the great things Memphis has to offer for families with kids--that’s what the web is for (although yay for Shelby Farms and My Big Backyard at the Botanic Garden!)--but I will say that having chosen Memphis as the place for this transformation, dwelling here has been sometimes thrilling, often surprising, occasionally challenging, and abundantly delightful."

Thanks, Paul! And, for the rest of you, keep the stories coming! If you've got a Why I Chose Memphis account that you want to share, send it to me and I'll add yours to the chorus of voices.

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