My husband & I (& our 2 corgis) just spent the better part of the past week vacationing in Eastern West Virginia (massive thanks to my parents for keeping Rachel so we could do that!). I was about to say rural WV but then I remembered that the state is by definition rural. The largest city in WV, which is the capital city of Charleston, has about 50,000 residents. The whole state has about the same population as the greater metropolitan area where we currently reside. As people who grew up in a similarly rural area in a nearby state, for us vacationing in such a place did not produce the kind of culture shock that a lot of other folks from our current home might feel. Being the kind of person that I am (& my husband being very similar, I might add), naturally I can’t take a vacation from my own brain, so as much as I enjoyed our time in the relative wilderness- that in some ways felt like a bit of a time warp- I couldn’t turn my mind off from thinking about all the implications of living in such a rural place as Eastern WV- or really any part of the state- or any other similarly rural areas in VA, NC, & frankly the whole country.
If I could define my life by one dilemma- or one paradox- it would be the conflict between my rural roots & my more urban/suburban adulthood. I’ve written about this before but the truth of the matter is that I don’t feel truly at home in either place. At the risk of being overly self-indulgent, here are a few reasons why. I also suspect more people can relate to this than perhaps I am naturally inclined to assume- hence why writing this feels worthwhile for more than my own sanity. (To be clear, I realize these lists draw on stereotypes but in this case they’re stereotypes that exist for a reason.)
In rural areas, like my hometown, I feel out of place because:
- I’m a big believer in science which of course translates to supporting Covid vaccinations.
- I support gay marriage.
- I strongly dislike abortion but do not think it should actually be illegal, certainly not in the first trimester. (I think we should be focusing on all the many things we can do to prevent so many women from getting to a place where an abortion is a viable option- but that’s a whole other blog post right there.)
- I do NOT believe in abstinence only education or the “true love waits” movement. I have seen what it does & the results, frankly, aren’t good.
- I believe in the existence of white privilege. And I support the removal of Confederate monuments. (Notice I said removal, not destruction.) I find the Confederate flag offensive & outdated. LET IT GO, PEOPLE!
- My husband & I haven’t routinely worn our wedding rings for our entire decade of marriage. We also have never had a shared bank account. We do no think this reflects poorly on our marriage or that it implies distrust.
- I enunciate my words a bit more than a lot of people do & probably come across as “overly educated” or “getting above my station” to some folks, simply because of my elocution/vocabulary.
- I have gone fishing a grand total of once in my entire life & found it incredibly boring. I have never once been hunting, “mudding,” or cow tipping.
- I have very mixed feelings about country music & particularly despise the kind that glorifies small town life as some kind of heavenly perfection, meanwhile completely ignoring all of its pitfalls.
- I never use religion or the Bible to force my beliefs on anyone. I don’t believe in a god who gave me a brain & then said “Don’t bother using it.”
- If I drove the same roads every day that I’ve been driving my whole life, if my child went to the same schools I did, I would never escape a sense of failure. I know that for many people these things bring comfort & even happiness- but for me they just don’t. But that doesn’t mean I hated my childhood or regret my past. And it doesn’t mean I look down on those who feel differently- if anything, if I’m being truly honest, I’m a little envious of them.
- All of my favorite foods- with the exception of pizza- are not standard “American” fare. When I go out to eat, I almost always choose restaurants where the food is cooked by people with darker skin than mine. Because, let’s face it, it’s way more interesting!
Now here’s a list of reasons why I feel out of place in my current urban/suburban home:
- I staunchly support the 2nd Amendment.
- Though I sound far less Southern/country than many folks from my hometown do, or even than I used to sound, I still have a bit of an accent, especially on certain words, & probably sound like a “redneck” or a “hick” to certain people.
- I know that life doesn’t cease to exist if there isn’t a Starbucks or a Panera within a 10 mile radius of oneself at any given moment. In fact, I lived the first almost 2 decades of my life having neither one within 20 minutes of my residence. I survived.
- I hate bars & nightclubs. I also hate fine dining. If I have to dress up to go somewhere- especially if there is a more casual alternative- I probably don’t want to go because it will likely just feel pretentious & stupid to me.
- The idea of living downtown in a place with restaurants, clubs, or offices in the same building as my residence sounds miserable. I can see why some folks like it but- damn it- I NEED MY SPACE! I need my own yard!! And I don’t want to share walls with anyone else. I had enough of that in college.
- While I don’t support the “true love waits” movement, I also don’t support hook up culture. I think it leads to far too much heartbreak for both men & women (not to mention STIs). Furthermore I think monogamy & the nuclear family (though I have a much broader definition of what a nuclear family can be than some have) are the single most important backbone for any civilization.
- I’m not a Democrat (or a Republican, for that matter, but people in urban areas such as this are overwhelming Democrats soooo…). I do not decorate my house or yard with virtue signaling signs. I might agree with a fair amount of the philosophies behind some of those signs but I don’t think signs change lives- actions do.
- I believe in lower taxes & smaller government. I believe in individual freedoms & liberty & self-responsibility. I believe that government is quite often the WORST instrument for helping people in need, but that does NOT mean I don’t believe in helping others- contrary to what some might think. In short, I do not think socialism or communism is the answer to our society’s ills.
- And last, but certainly not least, as much as “rednecks” drive me crazy sometimes, as much as they test my patience & sometimes make me want to disown them, I can never truly look down on them. Because at heart I am one, whether I like it or not. Because even though I often disagree with the conclusions they come to on certain issues, I can understand their line of reasoning. To be clear, that doesn’t mean I always AGREE with it- sometimes I adamantly disagree- but I can see where it comes from, if nothing else because I grew up in an area where I was immersed with that kind of reasoning. And I know that the issues they face are far more complex than the average “city person” realizes. (I also think this gives me a lot more license to call them out on certain problematic behaviors, such as racism.)
So, you see, no matter where I am, I always feel like a bit of an outsider. I always feel like maybe I’m the crazy one who just can’t fall in line with everyone else. Thankfully I have a handful of wonderful friends & family, from both rural & urban areas, who accept me for who I am, with all my many foibles & eccentricities. I also realize that a lot more people- both in rural & in urban areas- probably feel like this than are truly honest about it. Most people value security- i.e. fitting in- too much to break their façade. And who can really blame them? Life is hard enough without making yourself stand out from the crowd.
So where am I going with all of this? Excellent question- I’m not sure. I guess I’m just trying to say that after all these years, I still find myself wishing for something I can’t have. I want my child to grow up in a place that is geographically gorgeous & inspiring- preferably with glorious mountains- but I also want her to grow up somewhere with plenty of economic & educational opportunities. I want her to grow up in a multicultural area where she has classmates, friends, & neighbors from all races & walks of life. In short, I want some of the culture of urban areas & some of the culture of rural areas. But it seems impossible to find somewhere with both! Furthermore, I want her to have opportunities I didn’t but I also don’t want her to be a snob. I always want her to be aware of how privileged she is to live where she does but never to look down on those who have less. For example, if she ever asks a student from a rural area why they don’t have their own private flute instructor, as someone once asked me, or if she ever looks at someone like they have 3 heads because they haven’t heard of Ikea, as someone once did to me, I will have failed as a parent. I want her to know that just because we as her parents chose to live somewhere very different than where we grew up, it doesn’t mean that we rejected that culture altogether or that we are better than those who chose to stay. It just means we wanted something different- but different doesn’t necessarily mean better or worse- it just means different.
Does anyone else feel me on this or am I just shouting into the ether again?