My Greatest Dilemma

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?

Rural vs Urban: the Greatest Divide in Modern America

A month or two ago, a close friend of mine sent me an article that she thought I’d appreciate.  The article explains why Trump, despite his many obvious flaws, became such a viable presidential candidate, especially for folks in rural areas.  But more importantly the article addresses the massive cultural divide that separates rural & urban American which is largely either ignored or vastly over simplified.  As someone who has lived on both sides of this cultural divide, having grown up in a very rural area & now living in an urban area, I have witnessed this cultural divide in a very personal way.  In fact as I read this article, I kept thinking to myself “I could have written this about my own hometown.”  The truth is that when I’m in my hometown I worry I’m viewed as some kind of snob who chose to leave & now thinks she’s better because of it.  But when I’m home here in the city I worry I’m viewed as a bit of a redneck, albeit an intelligent, educated one.  Perhaps it’s all in my head & I’m just too self-absorbed to realize it, but I guess what it comes down to is that I never feel 100% at home anywhere. 

Sign reads: 'Small town ahead - don't believe a word you heard.'

As much as I am not thrilled to see Donald Trump as our next President (though I’d have been equally disappointed to see Hillary as our next President but for different reasons), I must admit I am horrified to see so many supposedly tolerant liberals suddenly categorizing anyone who voted for Trump as racists/misogynists/sexists/idiots.  These are the same people who constantly remind us that not all Muslims are terrorists & shouldn’t be treated as such just because a small fraction of them are.  And I absolutely agree with that sentiment.  However, it is very disappointing to see some of these same “tolerant” folks lumping anyone who voted for Trump into various unsavory categories without actually knowing anything about these folks.  Trust me, I am equally horrified that many of my own conservative, religious friends & family somehow rationalized voting for Trump.  It’s cognitive dissonance at its finest in my own mind.  But the fact of the matter is I know, love, & respect many people who voted for both Hillary & Trump, neither of whom I could find it in my own heart to elect, & my opinion on their character has not changed one iota based on who they chose to vote for.  I fully realize that many people truly felt like they were choosing between the lesser of two evils.  Furthermore, my husband & I didn’t even vote for the same person this year & yet it has not affected our relationship in any way.  So I figure if we can be married (& expecting a baby in just a few weeks) & not allow this to harm our relationship, what the hell is wrong with all these other people who are suddenly incapable of tolerating opposing viewpoints from people they don’t even know?MLK love

To return to the rural vs urban issue, when I was in college & even more once I moved to an urban area, I started realizing how much America’s inner city ghettos & rural America have in common.  The hopelessness, the poverty, the high teen pregnancy rate, the drug usage, the prevalence of single moms & the absence of fathers, the high school drop-out rate . . . All of these are major issues that both communities face.  The difference is that in rural areas instead of crappy apartments there are shitty trailers, & there are probably fewer actual gangs & hard drugs, though the violence is still alarming.  Just a few weeks ago, I was explaining this phenomenon to a coworker & somewhat jokingly stated “the rural areas just have less heroin.”  Just a few days later I found out a classmate of mine died of what was likely a heroin overdose & suddenly I ate those words.  The other glaring difference of course is that a lot poor folks in rural areas are white, & one can’t help but wonder if that is one reason they elicit less sympathy from the masses.  Obviously the population density is lower in rural areas so superficially things may seem different, but dig a little deeper & you’ll realize that these communities are facing many of the exact same issues that poor urban areas are facing . . . & often with even fewer resources to assuage & combat these problems.


Scenes like this are a dime a dozen in my hometown & in so many others like it.

It’s rare that I allow someone else to speak my views for me.  But when I do find that someone else has expressed my own thoughts so eloquently, I am happy to allow their words to speak for me.  So today I implore my readers to read the aforementioned article & seek to understand this very important & largely neglected issue.  I think the words that spoke to me the most, the words which had me nodding along the hardest, are these:

“In a city, you can plausibly aspire to start a band, or become an actor, or get a medical degree. You can actually have dreams. In a small town, there may be no venues for performing arts aside from country music bars and churches. There may only be two doctors in town — aspiring to that job means waiting for one of them to retire or die. You open the classifieds and all of the job listings will be for fast food or convenience stores. The “downtown” is just the corpses of mom and pop stores left shattered in Walmart’s blast crater, the “suburbs” are trailer parks. There are parts of these towns that look post-apocalyptic.

I’m telling you, the hopelessness eats you alive.

And if you dare complain, some liberal elite will pull out their iPad and type up a rant about your racist white privilege. Already, someone has replied to this with a comment saying, “You should try living in a ghetto as a minority!” Exactly. To them, it seems like the plight of poor minorities is only used as a club to bat away white cries for help. Meanwhile, the rate of rural white suicides and overdoses skyrockets. Shit, at least politicians act like they care about the inner cities.”left_a_small_town_,-20749

If you’re reeling over the results of this election & wondering what the hell is wrong with our country, I hope that reading this article will help you understand why so many people did vote for Trump & to appreciate that not everyone who voted for him is some horrible, hateful person.  Just like not everyone who voted for Hillary is some corrupt lifelong bureaucrat.  Also to the people leading violent protests against Trump, defacing historical monuments, & beating Trump supporters in the streets, please grow up & realize that your actions prove you’re just as intolerant & despicable as you say the people who voted for Trump are.bleed-red-lyrics

This is not a time to hate each other.  This is a time to remember the essential humanity that unites us all.  To end this post, I’d like to share one of my favorite songs which I think is especially germane at this point in history.  Lyrics are posted below.

Let’s say we’re sorry,
Before it’s too late,
Give forgiveness a chance
Turn the anger into water
Let it slip through our hands

We all bleed red,
We all taste rain,
All fall down,
Lose our way,
We all say words we regret,
We all cry tears, we all bleed red

If we’re fighting, we’re both losing,
We’re just wasting our time
Because my scars,
They are your scars & your world is mine

You & I, we all bleed red,
We all taste rain, all fall down, lose our way
We all say words, we regret,
We all cry tears, we all bleed red

Sometimes we’re strong, sometimes we’re weak,
Sometimes we’re hurt & it cuts deep
We live this life, breath to breath,
We’re all the same, we all bleed red

Let’s say we’re sorry before it’s too late

We all bleed red,
All taste rain, all fall down, lose our way
We all say words, we regret,
We all cry tears, all bleed red

Sometimes we’re strong, sometimes we’re weak,
Sometimes we’re hurt & it cuts deep
We live this life, breath to breath,
We’re all the same, we all bleed redall bleed red