It was easy writing this in the beginning but after an e-mail I received later while composing this, it became harder to finish.
I keep hoping for a miracle here in Appalachia.
A miracle sort of like a George Bailey type miracle in “It’s a Wonderful Life”. It’s a miracle that I hope for personally and professionally.
You know the miracle. The one that leaves you crying more than one tear and has the little moral of the story at the end of the miracle, like Zuzu telling George and Mary that every time a bell rings, an angel gets their wings.
Personally, I’m looking for a Zuzu moment. A moment that I can say, I finally won the war but know that I have to continue to battle to stay atop of my game. I want to look upward and say “Thank you, God” instead of dropping my head and wondering what I didn’t do to get to that point. After a time, you feel like you can’t take much more.
That personal hope is what I want to see for Appalachia also. Like a train roaring down the tracks like in the old days but not in the same coal driven way of years past.
I want to see Appalachia roar back to life with opportunities in tech and other sources of industry and begin our weaning from coal.
Please don’t misunderstand me, coal has been good to me but as Kryptonite is to Superman, it’s made me weaker and put me to the point of what I consider career death.
Professionally, I want to thrive in Appalachia with new ways of telling our story, about our history, where we’ve come from, what we’ve overcome and the new direction we are heading. You might not think it but Appalachia has a story to tell of the ups, downs, highs, lows, problems and solutions and the dreams yet to be experienced.
There’s just one problem. Just like this place I call home, just like the old U2 song, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
As I’ve been told before, you may just have to leave Appalachia to find what you are looking for. There’s no diamond mines in the coalfields.
When I was younger, I remember seeing Superman take a piece of coal, applying pressure and voila! Diamonds. Then, all it took was my wife, a “rockhound” to burst my bubble and tell me that wasn’t possible.
I argued with her and told her that “there’s carbon in diamonds”, but my wife in her response said, “It’s not from coal.”
So much for my childhood fantasies and dreams.
But I guess, herein lies the problem. I’m soon to be 52 years old. To some in the working world, that’s considered old. In others, you are a liability. An excessive cost in that it is too much money to hire them at that age, they probably have health issues, thus causing insurance rates to rise or something else and finally the ultimate question, they may have experience but can they do the job?
It’s a stigma for some of us in Appalachia much like it is in the outside world.
I’ve said many times I didn’t want to leave, to the point that I feel chained here to the region. I want to break these chains of “slavery” to a region not only of stigma but of attitude as well.
The dreams of staying but also being able to apply my trade in the professional world keeps me close to Appalachia, as well as my father, family and friends I hold dear.
But still, in a faint, foggy but distant corner of my mind, I want to leave the mountains to see if Shangri-La really exists on the other side. Is there really hope out there for me or I have I let the train leave the station without me getting aboard?
A few months back, I asked friends and family why they left here, why they left Appalachia. The response was overwhelming stating that among some of the reasons they left here included better opportunity outside the region. Some said they would never come back, others expressed they felt a call to come back, even if to visit for 4th of July, Christmas, etc.
I even talked to one friend about of all things, guilt about dying and not being buried back home in Appalachia.
While it’s still home to some people living away from here, some are tied or chained to the very land they left, seeking opportunity but feeling obligated to be buried here or have their ashes scattered here. Their children are somewhat tied here but the feeling isn’t the same.
My issue now in whether I want to leave Appalachia, is whether I’ll find that mythical land of Shangri-La and in the end, whether or not I am good enough in this competitive scheme of life.
There’s competition out there. A lot of people looking for jobs. There are young people who are looking to make that big splash in the world and companies looking to hire them and a considerably lesser rate of pay than what it might cost for a 52 year-old like me.
Experience is nice but sometimes it can be a downside. I’ve tried to stay on top of the world of journalism as much as possible, focusing on social media, podcasting, and so many new things that I have picked up and learned while still working on one of my first loves, graphic design and how it all falls into a pattern in this jigsaw puzzle of my world of communications. I’ve tried to maintain my experience in so many different areas including radio broadcasting and news reporting.
It’s left me frustrated but still hoping that I can use my abilities and skills and stay here in Appalachia. It’s where I am connected. Its where I relate.
If I stay here in this part of Appalachia, it is going to take a “Wonderful Life style miracle” to keep this 52 year-old version of George Bailey to stay without contemplating his next move.
As I’ve said before, I’ve got reasons to stay. Family and the simplicity of life here in Appalachia but I want to truly say I’ve had a chance to spread my wings and fly doing something I love and also after being held to the ground. I just want the chance to see the sky, personally and professionally, whether it be in Appalachia doing the work I love, Shangri-La or beyond.
For the reasons previously stated, I want to stay here in Appalachia.
I want to work, live and yes, die here.
I don’t want to stay here just to draw a check from the government and be one of the statistics. I just want a chance to prove myself. Sort of what I want to see from Appalachia can do in proving itself once again and feeling like you belong instead of feeling like an outcast.
Just like Superman, there’s just so much Kryptonite you can absorb before it eventually destroys you.
P.S. In the time after I finished this entry, I received correspondence of yet another rejection of an “appeal” to stay here. So goes another George Bailey miracle.
No bells and Zuzu’s petals this time. This is my real life in Appalachia.