June 06, 2003

Appalachia and Image

The region of the map and of the collective mind called Appalachia has the soft edges of a remembered dream, real and substantial somehow in the way that a character in a radio play heard often enough takes on an imagined existence we cannot thereafter unthink or unknow. We that live here in the midst of this shadow land of Appalachia are the players written into it by color writers and matrons of mercy from more than a century ago. We have been content to play our assigned parts with too little regard for what our audience has come to think they know about us. We have too long believed the caricatures about ourselves and our place in it, so that the good that we could say, write, paint, sing, and do in and for the larger world has fallen on ears believing that no really good thing can come from Nazareth.

I have recently seen vital signs that the victim is recovering from her long period of catatonic self-delusion. Our children, even from this county boasting only a single traffic light, are succeeding. The local newspaper in Floyd County, Virginia, recently devoted several full pages, as they do every year, to pictures of each graduating senior with a short description of their plans for after high school. I have been inclined to quickly look away from these pages in years past, here and in other Appalachian places I have lived. I find it disheartening to read across the rows and columns of graduates going into 'undecided' futures; or worse, "entering the world of work"... a phrase that, rightly or wrongly, makes me imagine young worker bees going forever into the foggy future of amorphous and undistinguished servitude in exchange for food.

Not so this year's graduates in my county. The vast majority are going to college. Not only that, they can declare with some precision what it is they want to do with their lives. Many will be going into communication arts, fine arts and the sciences. And a significant number will be staying within the Appalachian region for college because they can get a quality education in this 'backwater' world and even, hopefully, find jobs back in their home towns when their next graduation day comes around in four years. Success is the sweetest revenge, it is said. If we are to rewrite Appalachia's future, we must acknowledge and proclaim outside our own walls the successes that happen every day in our communities, schools and by the arts and artifacts that typify the real Appalachia.

If we can give voice to our successes in education and the arts, and confidently tell the larger world who we really are, perhaps we will grow unwilling to be mere characters in a quaint American play, watching ourselves selling our birthright for a bowl of porridge.

Posted by fred1st at June 6, 2003 07:09 AM | TrackBack
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