My last post on the blog, “Appalachian Chained” seemed to set off a small firestorm.
The post touched on many things; religion, hope, disappointment, failure and all wrapped together by a commentary on depression and mental health in Appalachia. The post has generated many reads but a few comments caught my eye, raised my eyebrow and caused me to ponder some things.
One response took note of my reference to Appalachia being “the region known for centuries as an economic hub in the country, mainly because of the coal mining and logging industries” to point out that “Central Appalachia has not been an economic hub for centuries.”
When I wrote that, I took a reference in the report and commented that Appalachia, in and of itself, has featured “regional economic hubs” each in their own right, distinctive and different from the other. Whether it be the small company town set up by coal and timber barons and companies in the late 1800’s, to the rail yard hub in Roanoke to the steel mills in Pittsburgh, Appalachia has seen its share of economic hubs of activity. Unfortunately, we’ve seen less and less activity in recent years, following decades of decline.
The point I was trying to make was, the region has been identified as a source of economic activity and generation of economic prosperity but the people have suffered through many seasons of economic spring and winter. Our people have put all their eggs in one basket, never diversifying, witnessed and allowed the land to be destroyed and the environment suffer at the expense of progress.
During the upswings and the downturns, Appalachia has suffered its greatest loss and disappointment in a flood of depression and now is a hub of mental illness, depression and addiction.
I also touched on the phrase that has been commonly used by many Appalachians, including my parents and friends over time. The phrase of “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” is common here in the mountains with reference to picking yourself up, dusting yourself off and starting again. I didn’t think that I used the phrase in a derogatory way but the reader pointed out that the phrase is both silly and patronizing. I agree. The phrase is outdated but the goals are clear for Appalachia, if we are going to change this region for the good, we are going to have clean ourselves up, pull ourselves out of the mire of depression and get up and fight back.
In reference to your wish that my blog, Facebook page and Twitter account should be “Appalachian Unchained”. Your suggestion is well taken. My response? It ain’t going to happen.
Yes, you read that right. It ain’t going to happen and yes, Clinch Valley College professor of English during my years of attendance in the 1980’s, I used the word “ain’t”. He told me constantly that the word “ain’t” is not a part of the English language. He tried many times to break me in the use of the word.
One problem though, he was not from Appalachia and I felt he was trying to change a part of who I am.
It was named “Appalachian Chained” for a reason and “Appalachian Chained” is a part of who I am. One, a play on words about the Appalachian mountain chain but also a reference to being chained to this region, whether physically, emotionally or spiritually. I wrote a piece for the blog when I first it in February, 2017 entitled, “I Am Chained to Appalachia” and the description of my view looking back on what I should have done, what I am trying to do, breaking the chains that have held me here but also commenting that despite my best efforts, I can’t seem to break away from this “mythos” known as Appalachia.
When the day comes that I finally leave Appalachia, whether physically planting roots somewhere else in my older days or my spirit leaves my body, like it or not, I will carry something of Appalachia with me. It’s a bond that can’t be broken for me and if it is broken, I don’t think I’ll ever be the same without a part of Appalachia being in me.
A few more other comments came to me privately.
One reader commented and pointed out that I wasn’t the person they remembered. Some of that based upon my references to the Appalachian gold standard being in me and that “I was the only person that can let it die.” I agree with the “standard” being in me and that it needs to change.
The article about mental health and depression in Appalachia just reached me in a different way than other stories and accounts have before. It made me admit that yes, I suffer from depression but that life in general and life in Appalachia, has made me this way, just like it has made people seek escape through other means necessary to survive. Writing and expressing my feelings are my “vice” now, instead of resorting to alcohol, drugs or other temptation.
The last comment I will share also came privately but spoke to me differently. The reader wrote, ”Don’t you dare give up on whatever dream it is you are pursuing. It may not come in the exact form you had in mind but it will come to fruition. I see you as very successful already. You are inspiring in all the work I’ve seen…”
Thank you for thinking I am successful in your eyes and inspiring in my work. Just understand, I am my own worst critic. In fact, thanks to all of those who responded. It’s opened my eyes to some things I need to change, strive toward and seek guidance.
Over time since I have been writing, I have started to lean in the direction that this place called Appalachia is not my enemy. It’s my home whether physically planted here or transplanted to another part of the world. I carry Appalachia with me, the good, the bad and yes, the ugly, wherever I go.
I am chained to Appalachia. I forever will be.
I’m just seeking ways of how we can change this negative perception and make it a simpler, less complicated place to live and also trying to change for the better.
That’s one dedicated direction that I ain’t going to deviate from.