Good to know.

Foiled by the Chicago short "a" again. My apologies.
It's not Apple-aye-chia; It's Appa-latcha.

...I think.


My name is Jenn, and I am a romantic.

I know most of my weaknesses. Okay, many of them. (And this is not the invitation to point out what you always thought was wrong about me.) We all have weaknesses, it's just a matter of what we choose to do with them.

My penchant for the romantic, the 18th century "sublime/romanticism" type, not the Danielle Steele type, can sometimes be like blinders. Wholehearted sentimentality is a burden when you sincerely embrace it as part of who you are. I am guilty of founded and unfounded nostalgia alike. And I am a flea market bum. I know all these things, and have thus far not made moves to change them. They are weaknesses to be sure, but are deeply rooted in my values and not likely to change before August first.

Because I recognize this, I am taking active steps to try and neutralize any romantic ideas that have built up over time in me about Appalachia and the people there, primarily created, and now fought, through reading. I want to be fair and have as few expectations as I can. I know I am highly influenced by what I read (another weakness), and have tried to be careful in my reading selection. But last weekend I ran into a complication. I read a academic paper written by two professors, Ronald Lewis and Dwight D. Billings, called "Appalachian Culture and Economic Development". In their argument about cultural perception, they condemn just about every type of literary/poetic expression depicting Appalachia, save Frederick Law Olmsted's edition on the region entitled "A Journey in the Back Country", in which the only distinction he recognizes between the Deep South and Appalachian people is the mountains they live in. "They were just poor people" where ever they were.

Lewis and Billings say most popular portrayals are based on the "myth of Appalachia". The Myth is made of everything that goes into the general stereotype of Appalachian people. You know it, straight out of Deliverance: illiterate, no shoes, less teeth than shoes, drunk, prone to depression. The Myth goes all the way back to the "first" American folk song, "New England's Annoyances". The "Annoyances" is my favorite example used in the report; allow me expansion. Dated circa 1630 the "poem is a self-depreciation of New England's farmers poking fun at Englishmen who regarded the colonists as 'rustic hicks' who lived disheveled lives of grinding poverty". The anti-RedCoat song explains clothing for instance:
"And now do out Garments begin to grow thin.
An Wool is much wanted to card and to spin;
If we can get a Garment to cover without,
Our other In-Garments are Clout upon Clout;
Out Clothes we brought with us are apt to be torn,
They need to be clouted soon after their worn;
But clouting our Garments they hinder us nothing;
Clouts double are warmer than single whole Clothing."
Now for the life of me I cannot understand how that was written as a self-depreciation against someone else, but the point is taken that being known from wearing underclothes that are "Clout upon Clout" (a clout is a patch) is not the ideal way to start for characterization as a region. But if Lewis and Billings are right, then there is nearly nothing "creative" for me to read about the region that will give me an idea of what I am making my way toward.

What a bummer!

I don't even mean creative as in "a creative look at things", but as in, not academic, not scientific; I would settle for "approved" journal entries!

I am not so naive as to think a stroll through the Cumberland Gap is going to lead me to Jodie Foster pushing daises in the eyeballs holes of her dead mother's skull; I am pretty sure she is still alive anyway. I don't know I would have the guts to drink real moonshine if I came across it for fear of lead and adelhyde poisoning. I am right there on board with one pastor from the region when he shares, "A woman from Georgia working with Coeburn on mission projects informed us that some folks in her church would not participate in mission work in Coeburn because "they are a bunch of crackheads." Now we are barefoot, poor, uneductated crackheads who all handle snakes in church. What a picture!"

The stereotypes are outrageous and my whole self-reeducation is about breaking them down, but I do believe in regional distinctions. Anyone who has traveled outside of one area can recognize that the people in Seattle are very different from the people in Georgia. I was raised in the "melting-pot school system mentality" and, sure, we are all much more similar that we are different, but ignoring the differences does a separate sort of harm. More is lost than gained when we loose regional variances and assume homogeny. At the other extreme, yes, everyone is an individual, but very few cases of absolute separatism exist. If they did, we would never know anyway. In this case, both attitudes have their place. Individual people belong to collective groups, no matter how blurred lines get and overlap. I will give that not all, or even probably most portrayals of Appalachia are accurate, but I will not give up on a distinct regional character. Not in one particular person, but in the accurate characterization of a culture and its subcultures.

So, what's a girl to do? I am taking Lewis and Billings for the economic and historiographical analyses, but their literary critiques with a grain of salt and fighting one weakness (vulnerability in reading) in favor of another (preservation of romanticism). Not all weaknesses are bad. Not all vulnerabilities are bad. Sometimes growing we grow passed them. Sometimes they lead us to great adventures.

I'm not looking for "almost heaven" or life "older than the trees", but I would settle for a "mountain momma" or "miner's lady".