I can't help but to think it would.
It could be my own sadness affecting the way I see southeastern Kentucky, but in this case, I don't think it is. I can't help but be swallowed by this general malaise I feel all around me. I can feel it when we are driving back into the Kentucky mountains from outside. The beauty of our land calls us home and yet, when we arrive, there is this blanket of heaviness. It is such an energetic let down. Our collective subconscious, of which we are vaguely aware but who's impact is not recognizable. The defeat before the game is even begun. I can see it in the eyes of our people. Feel it in the way the wind blows through the trees. I can hear it in the cadence of our voices. It is readable in the sighs and groans of grocery aisles and waiting rooms. To conquer this would be to lift an incredible burden held by generations of a people.
Yesterday, we took a day trip to Johnson City, Tennessee. Johnson City is a larger Appalachian city with most of the urban amenities and yet short miles from the joys of the rural mountains. We had to take some Christmas gifts to exchange and purchase some things for my husband's tattoo shop - The Parlor Room Fine Art and Custom Tattoo. It was such a relief to be out of the house and away from the familiar. We visited the Hands On! Museum, ate out, and accessed some great food at Earth Fare. Even though our restaurant experience was less than killer, we were all joy filled.
It is those few and far between glimpses of the world outside of home that makes me daydream about what it would be like to live once again away from here. What opportunities would be held for my girls? How would it affect my husband's work and his ability to grow his business? Would I have more opportunities to interact with friends and be involved in my community? Is it possible that I'd feel more freedom? I don't know the real answer. Is there any way to know really? I've read about contentment and ways of living in both rural and urban settings. Now, I feel like we are in a limbo, waiting for some moment to arrive where we can say something really paid off big.
There's been all kinds of media coverage of the little town where my husband works and where I was raised - Whitesburg, KY. We have a cultural media center in town called Appalshop that has worked for 40 years to preserve our cultural heritage through diverse undertakings. In no small part, because of their influence, we have had plenty of notable recognition. Yet, there's been outside attention focused on southeastern, KY long before Appalshop arrived in town and part of their efforts were spurred by the media coverage on Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty in Appalachia. Our people have been used, abused, and gawked at in a variety of ways.
It seems some media outlets want to focus on what is going right in our neck of the words, or at least an effort that is being made by some to make a life here on their own terms. Al Jazeera Amercia picked up a piece I wrote for The Daily Yonder (New Risk Takers in a Post Coal Economy) and came to Whitesburg to do a story on the ideas and work of the townsfolk - 5 Days in Kentucky: Small Town Conceives New Life After Mining. Here we are two full years after the article still in same place. I honestly can't say I have any clue what life is going to be like here when most of the coal mines are gone and if our region is sustainable as it is. Transition takes time. There are growing pains. I don't know what will become of Whitesburg and other southeastern Kentucky towns. For as many as give entrepreneurship a go, as many must step away. Even one of the business women in the Al Jazeera piece will soon be closing shop.
My hope at this time is waning. I'm not sure if we'll be able to peek far enough from under this heavy quilt (as beautiful as each bit is) long enough to see the sun. I wonder if it is time to again see the world from another lawn.
Kelli B. Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, spiritual explorer, and avid yogini. Haywood is the Public Affairs Director for WMMT-Real People Radio in Whitesburg, Kentucky. Connect with her on Facebook @ Confluence Mama.
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